Merrifield, Lambert: What do they think?

       In the Nov. 2 election race for District 18 state representative, Republican Kent Lambert hopes to unseat incumbent State Rep. Michael Merrifield - the only Democrat state officeholder in El Paso County.
       The Westside Pioneer sent four questions to each candidate. The questions pertain to Westside issues.
       Their responses appear below.
Mike Merrifield Kent Lambert
1) What will you do to help ensure that the Westside Highway 24 upgrade – the public planning process for which is expected to be started by the Colorado Department of Transportation around the first of the year – will be beneficial for Westside businesses and residents?
      
       Two years ago when I was first elected, CDOT was not working with our local planning agencies according to federal guidelines and was reprimanded for it. I was appointed to the House Transportation & Energy Committee and decided to light a fire.
       I brought forth legislation that would have required CDOT to work with counties, planning organizations like PPACG and neighborhood associations like the Westside Neighbors. Although the legislation failed, it pushed CDOT to be more responsive. My committee position makes me uniquely positioned to make sure the interests of the Westside are protected.
      
       2) Should the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) and/or Amendment 23 (guaranteed extra funding for public schools) be altered to solve state revenue shortfalls? If so, can you summarize how this should be done?
      
       It is imperative that the Legislature come to an agreement on how to address the perfect storm created by TABOR, Amendment 23 and Gallagher. It is important that lawmakers put political jockeying aside and do what is best for the entire state. They must remember that the citizens spoke and demand BOTH a reinvestment in public education AND control over government growth and taxes. Without a solution to this problem, the state and our community will be handicapped in its ability to address essential services.
       TABOR restricts services to keep up with demand and new needs.
       To address the problem, I believe we need to:
       · Eliminate the ratchet effect. We should allow services to keep pace with our state's needs.
       · Continue to limit the growth of government, but base it on a percentage of personal income growth - a more accurate measure of the state's economic health, rather than population growth plus inflation.
       · Continue to require voter approval for all tax increases.
      
       3) The Westside has a number of lower-income households, the reality of which may impact those residents and their children negatively in terms of education, health and crime. Are there actions that you believe should be taken at the state level regarding this situation? If so, what?
      
       Over the past two years I have talked to thousands of constituents about their needs and concerns. I have walked each neighborhood at least twice, held numerous town hall meetings, attended round table meetings with small business owners and educators, and taken thousands of phone calls. My actions in the Legislature are guided by community need.
       I fought to provide solutions for adequate and cost-effective health care for all Colorado families, through prescription drug purchasing pools and insurance purchasing pools. I will fight for tax credits for small businesses, enabling them to provide health insurance for their employees. I will continue to fight to maintain adequate funding for the CHIP+ insurance program for low- income children.
       I will continue to fight to provide fair and equitable funding for neighborhood public schools and for local control.
       I will continue to fight for legislation that provides tenants with rights when dealing with unscrupulous landlords.
       I led the fight that restored funding for Juvenile Diversion programs, because every kid deserves a second chance.
       As we face a new budget which will require cuts from last year's budget, we must not make these cuts on the backs of children, the elderly or the working poor.
      
       4) What law do you think is the most important for the Colorado Legislature to pass this session?
      
       It is imperative that the legislature come to an agreement on how to address the perfect storm created by TABOR, Amendment 23 and Gallagher. Without a solution to this problem, the state and our community will be handicapped in its ability to address essential services. Without a solution, we will need to continue to make massive cuts to higher education, Medicaid, transportation and roads, public safety and many other vital programs. And there will be no solutions to the other problems in the state. I invite my fellow legislators to set aside their differences to find a bipartisan solution to this problem.
1) What will you do to help ensure that the Westside Highway 24 upgrade - the public planning process for which is expected to be started by the Colorado Department of Transportation around the first of the year - will be beneficial for Westside businesses and residents?
      
       Road improvements and reduced bottlenecks will benefit the Westside, which is why I support Prop 1A and this upgrade. However, I have some concerns that should be addressed during the planning process. Visitors on I-25 and Highway 24 may pass by our traditional tourism areas on the Westside and Manitou – what I call a “Route 66” effect. Highway 24 construction should also be coordinated with the historical improvement goals for the area. Using my experience as a military diplomat, I will work with CDOT officials, local area elected officials, business owners and residents to help ensure that these issues are addressed.
      
       2) Should the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) and/or Amendment 23 (guaranteed extra funding for public schools) be altered to solve state revenue shortfalls? If so, can you summarize how this should be done?
      
       I support your basic right to vote on new taxes. I will consider reasonable alternatives to some tax regulations, but the taxpayers have asked the Legislature to carefully administer the funds that they provide for government services, and I will continually work to keep government taxation and spending in check.
       Voters supporting Amendment 23 thought funding for K-12 education should be a high priority - and it should be. However, many did not foresee how the amendment's mandatory increases would cut so deeply into higher education and many social services. With my background in budget analysis and in diplomacy, I will work with my fellow legislators to explore reasonable alternatives to solve this problem while preserving the intent of Amendment 23.
       I have a proven record of saving taxpayers' hard-earned money. As a budget and systems analyst, I've made tough decisions and prioritized budgets. One such project saved the U.S. Air Force almost six billion dollars. I will work to find the waste and inefficiency in Colorado government. I will fight to prioritize spending and make decisions to provide the best return for your hard-earned tax dollars.
      
       3) The Westside has a number of lower-income households, the reality of which may impact those residents and their children negatively in terms of education, health and crime. Are there actions that you believe should be taken at the state level regarding this situation? If so, what?
      
       Our families can only succeed if our economy and job market is vibrant and healthy. We need a 21st Century workforce, an educational system to teach modern skills and a strong small-business environment to employ them.
       I am dedicated to quality educational opportunities for every student, policies to raise student performance and lower dropout rates. I encourage parental involvement because parents know what's best for their children's education. Traditional neighborhood schools, magnet schools, charter schools, private schools, home schooling, and distance learning programs should be considered based on students' needs.
       We must encourage new jobs. I have a small-business perspective. My family has run the successful Simpich Character Dolls in Old Colorado City for over 50 years. I have seen first-hand how government regulations and tax policies can interfere with small businesses' ability to survive and hire willing employees. I have the endorsement of the National Federation of Independent Business and the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce.
       I support hard penalties against violent criminals, illegal drug producers, and sexual predators that often target the poor and vulnerable. However, quality education that leads to good jobs is the best way to turn young people away from crime.
      
       4) What law do you think is the most important for the Colorado Legislature to pass this session?
      
       The most important goal is to resolve the budget problems and to provide funding for other essential programs. Unless that is resolved, the Legislature will have few choices but to freeze or reduce all other state services and programs. I plan to use my experience as a budget analyst, protecting taxpayers’ dollars on a federal level, and as a military diplomat to work with fellow legislators to address and solve this complex problem.