by Edie Flanagin
WALSENBURG- Senator Mark Udall stopped in at Spanish Peaks Library on Thursday, January 20 to answer questions from Huerfano citizens. The first order of business, however, was taking a tour of the beautiful SPLD building with director Monica Birrer as tour guide. Udall praised the gathered crowd for the cooperative community effort which preserved and restored the historic building. Cooperation was one of the central themes of his visit; Udall is behind the movement to get the joint houses of Congress to sit intermingled with the opposite party in this year’s State of the Union Speech. He contends that splitting the house chambers into a Republican side and a Democratic side sends the wrong message to the world and country. The mostly symbolic act shows, he believes, that Congress is working for bipartisan agreement in the coming legislative session.
The crowd of about thirty citizens asked the Senator about student loans, Health Care Reform, taxes and grant help for rural communities. On the question of student loans, Udall said that the 111th congress passed new standards for student loans, cutting out the “middle man” so that the loans are cheaper for students. Also in the same bill, Pell grants were extended to more people. One member of the crowd said she was a health care worker for 30 years and she supported the Health Care Reform passed last year and did not want the Bill repealed. Senator Udall assured her the repeal of health care would not pass in the Senate. He admitted, as most legislators do, that the bill isn’t perfect, “The bill needs to be fixed, not thrown out.”
An example of one of the good things in the bill (which Udall sponsored) is an amendment which will give grants to medical schools to provide more training and incentives for physicians to work and live in rural areas. The amendment is called the Rural Physician Pipeline Act. Hopefully this bill will help rural areas, like Huerfano County recruit young physicians.
Commissioner Roger Cain asked the Senator about a rumor he heard that all real estate transactions would be taxed at 7% with the proceeds going to health care. Udall was unaware of any provision in the bill that taxed land transactions. A second health care/tax question by Cain involved taxing of health care benefits. Udall said that the “Cadillac” plans some employers provide employees where the total health insurance cost was over $22,000 per year will be taxed as income. Cain was concerned that county employees would be taxed on their health benefits, but obviously that is not the case. The final tax question related to some of the new rules on small business where anyone who receives $600 a year from the business must be tracked and reported to the IRS. Udall said that law doesn’t go into effect until 2012 so Congress has time to fix that rule. One small business owner in the crowd said his CPA was already requiring the paperwork and it was a real nuisance. Udall believes the rule will be rescinded before it takes full effect.
The final questions answered by Udall came from county commissioners and the Walsenburg city administrator, how can rural areas get easier access to grants provided by the federal government? Urban areas have full time grant writers who are able to tap into monies provided by the federal government. Often rural communities like Walsenburg find out about the grants and how to get them too late; the funds are spent on the big cities. Udall introduced his Southern Colorado staff member Gloria Gutierrez. He assured the county and city officials that she would help Huerfano County get help in filling out forms and being aware of the grants in a timely way.
For more information about the work of Senator Udall visit his website:
Gary M. Vezzani was elected Walsenburg’s mayor in Tuesday’s special mayoral election/recall vote. Preliminary results announced Tuesday night show that both Nick Vigil in Ward