Guest commentary: Quirk in state constitution could harm CMC’s affordability, critical programs | AspenTimes.com

Guest commentary: Quirk in state constitution could harm CMC’s affordability, critical programs

Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser
Guest Commentary

Colorado Mountain College is not only one of the most affordable colleges in the nation, it is also the only college in our 12,000-square-mile service region that trains firefighters, law enforcement officers, nurses and teachers. Consequently, if CMC cannot offer these programs, they will not happen. And yet, a quirk in the Colorado Constitution threatens CMC's abilities to provide affordable training in services essential to the health, safety and quality of life in our region.

The financial snag in our Constitution has not gone unnoticed. In fact, CMC recently hosted a meeting of legislators at its Glenwood Springs Morgridge Commons conference facility. This six-member, bipartisan committee is holding statewide meetings to examine the unintended, but very real, impacts of the Gallagher Amendment.

The Gallagher Amendment is complex and entangled with other measures in our Constitution, but can be summarized this way: Growth in the number and values of homes forces reductions in revenue to local services. The historic population increases in the Denver metro area are forcing revenue downward in Colorado, and this is especially acute in rural communities like ours.

CMC lost nearly $3 million in projected revenues two years ago due to this situation. If nothing changes, the college will likely lose an additional nearly $4 million in 2019-20. To put this in perspective, $4 million is roughly equal to the operating budgets of the CMC campuses in Rifle or Breckenridge. These campuses address critical workforce training we all require.

CMC is not the only local service affected by the Gallagher Amendment. Fire districts, water districts, sanitation districts, school districts and numerous others share the same predicament. For some of our community services, such as our fire districts, which have worked tirelessly and courageously on numerous fires that have threatened homes and businesses throughout the central mountains this summer, this situation extends well beyond budget-balancing. As Karl Bauer, chief of the Eagle River Fire Protection district, said during the recent legislative meeting in Glenwood, if revenue continues to be cut, "we will see an unraveling of the system of mutual aid."

As I write this, we don't know what actions special districts might take or if the Legislature will offer a solution. I urge you to get educated, and to tell the committee what you think. Together we can help them fix the unintended consequences of the Gallagher Amendment. Information about this committee, including recordings of our recent meeting, can be found at http://leg.colorado.gov/committees/alternatives-gallagher-amendment-interim-study-committee/2018-regular- session.

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CMC's 3.997 mill levy has not changed in more than 40 years, and our communities celebrate the bachelor's and associate degrees, lifelong learning, and ESL and adult basic education the college provides.

The college is not seeking more money. We just want stability and predictability, so that we can plan for the long term and not face huge cuts even as our communities grow.

CMC was established by the mountain communities, for the mountain communities. The Gallagher Amendment threatens the college's ability to provide some of the most critical and affordable programs in the state, including training and education for firefighters and first responders, nurses and other health care practitioners, and teachers. If the unintended effects of the Gallagher Amendment are not resolved soon, the college will have few choices other than eliminating programs or raising tuition, neither of which is good for our communities.

Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser is president and CEO of Colorado Mountain College. She can be reached at cbhauser@coloradomtn.edu or via Twitter at @CMCPresident.