Q&A: Grand County Rep. Neguse talks housing, funding
U.S. House Rep. Joe Neguse, whose district covers Grand County, spent some time last week exploring the area and chatting with constituents. Neguse also sat down with the Sky-Hi News to talk about his visit, federal policies affecting the county and the housing crisis. Below is a lightly edited version of the conversation.
Sky-Hi News: What did you learn from your roundtable with local business leaders and during your tour of the National Sports Center for the Disabled?
Joe Neguse: With respect to the latter, at the National Sports Center for the Disabled, I learned just how incredible that resource is. It was remarkable visiting with the staff there and learning about the way in which they are making dreams come true for a lot of folks not just in Colorado but across the country… We wanted to pay a visit to thank them for the work they’re doing but also to make sure they knew we’re a resource to the extent that they ever need help with the VA or the federal government.
The roundtable with business leaders and government leaders as well… was fascinating in many ways. One, it’s clear that housing is a massive issue here in the county and is a crisis so to speak. What’s informative for me is that is a consistent thing that I’ve heard across the district… we have a housing affordability crisis in the state of Colorado.
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We’re trying to do our part at the federal level. I’ve introduced two bills that actually came from the district that would change the way in which LIHTC eligible properties can be acquired. The hope is to increase the affordable housing stock… (Also) we heard about how excited folks are about the new Lift system, which is great, so our office was excited to play a role in that.
SHN: What made you want to write a letter of support to help Winter Park’s Lift system receive federal funding?
JN: From my perspective, the job of a representative is two-fold. Of course, it’s to do work in Washington in terms of representing the values of your constituency… It’s also about making sure the constituencies are well served here in the district. From that perspective, having a good sense of what the local needs are and ways that we can help address those local needs. In this case, that was not our idea; it’s something that came here from the ground up and we wanted to be a resource to the county.
SHN: Going back to housing, what are some of the best ideas you’ve heard from constituents during your town hall meetings?
JN: One of the ideas we are currently exploring is around teacher subsidies. We have a teacher shortage in various parts of our state, particularly rural parts, so whether or not you could create an incentive in the tax code to create a housing subsidy for teachers who are teaching in rural school districts. We haven’t introduced a bill yet, but we’re visiting stakeholders… There have been some other conversations about addressing the realities of the median income level and the reality that because a resort community like Grand County, applying the federal standard that is applicable to the entire country to a county like Grand with the cost of living here, is just not practical or intellectually consistent… Those are a couple of ideas and there are a number of others outside housing.
SHN: How are you working to sustain the Secure Rural Schools program that provides funding to East and West Grand schools?
JN: The superintendent (Frank Reeves) and I have been having a lot of conversations about a permanent reauthorization… These have been two or three year extensions. Obviously, from our perspective, the most important thing to do was get the program done, so it was one of the first three bills I introduced when I was sworn in… Now that that’s done, we’re turning to some of the Republicans I worked with on the bill… talking with them about how do we come up with a permanent solution. I anticipate introducing a full funding permanent reauthorization bill, so we will see.
SHN: Has your office made any efforts on the reintroduction of wolves in Colorado? Do you support or oppose reintroduction?
JN: Our office hasn’t done anything on (the state ballot question), but I do think our office wrote a letter that demanded they extend the rule making when they were trying to delist the gray wolf (from the endangered species list). Obviously, we oppose vehemently the delisting… but we haven’t gotten involved on the ballot question.
SHN: Are you personally going to vote for it?
JN: Personally, I’ll end up voting for it.
SHN: What are you doing to try and protect funding for the National Park Service despite proposed budget cuts?
JN: The good news is we can do a lot. The budget is obviously a terrible budget… It’s not a partisan issue. Republicans, democrats, unaffiliateds — we all go to enjoy Rocky Mountain National Park… You realize from the deferred maintenance backlog and the needs we should be increasing the budget. When I said there was good news, it’s that (Democrats) have a majority in the House… Last year, the president also proposed some pretty draconian cuts and we were able to push back.
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