Immigration, PERA on minds

About 100 get ‘lowdown’ from lawmakers Roberts, Brown

State Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, and state Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, spoke at the League of Women Voters’ “Legislative Lowdown” on Saturday in Durango. Enlarge photo

LUCAS HESS/Durango Herald

State Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, and state Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, spoke at the League of Women Voters’ “Legislative Lowdown” on Saturday in Durango.

Immigration issues and concerns about the Public Employees Retirement Association dominated the conversation Saturday morning when about 100 people showed up to speak in person with state Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, and Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio.

Both Roberts and Brown made short speeches about what they’ve been working on before taking questions from the crowd at the League of Women Voters’ “Legislative Lowdown” at the Durango Public Library.

It was the biggest turnout the League of Women Voters has had at an event, league President Trish Pegram said.

Several attendees pressed Roberts and Brown on their lack of support for Senate bill 12-015, which would create a special category of tuition for undocumented college students.

Both Roberts and Brown responded that while education is important, immigration issues should be sorted out at the federal level, not through a series of state-based programs.

“I guess my point is, we need to get legal, we need to help these kids.” Brown said.

Roberts referred to the complications that have surrounded Fort Lewis College’s Native American tuition waiver, though she was careful to acknowledge that the waiver is “a totally separate issue.”

She also expressed financial concerns.

“I wish we could do all these things as if money didn’t matter,” she said, adding that she does not think it’s a “no-cost issue.”

City Councilor Dick White added to the financial discussion, asking how government officials will deal with the increasing strain on Colorado’s budget from Medicaid and K-12 programs.

“We’re going to have to prioritize and say, ‘what’s important in Colorado,’” Brown said. “The first word a baby learns is ‘no,’ and the first word a politician forgets is ‘no.’ Sometimes we’ve got to say ‘no.’”

A large group of retired teachers and school officials voiced passionate concerns about the state of PERA funds.

The generally angry questions and statements about changes to PERA were directed mainly at Roberts, who said she is not sponsoring any bills concerning PERA this year.

Based on the obvious concern about the topic, she recommended that another meeting be held to deal exclusively with PERA issues.

“My father was a teacher at a public high school for 25 years,” she said. “I know how hard teachers work. I consider myself an advocate for teachers.”

It’s important that PERA advocates focus on long-term sustainability rather than the short-term appeasement of a single group of people, she said, even if that means shaking up the percentage of PERA beneficiaries represented on the board.

Even though one opinion might dominate PERA discussions, there are others who may have different opinions or needs that shouldn’t be denied, she said.

“The bottom line is we’ve got to protect that investment,” Brown said. “It’s your money.”

scook@durangoherald.com

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