Ritter: State poised to get back on ‘solid footing’
In final State of the State address, governor says Colorado is making progress despite tough economic times
DENVER — Gov. Bill Ritter focused on jobs and economic recovery in his final State of the State address to the Colorado General Assembly on Thursday.
Ritter, who recently announced he would not seek re-election, said the state is well poised to recover from the recent recession better than most states, but he quickly added more can be done.
“While this has been a tough time, and while there will be setbacks, we are making progress,” the Democrat told hundreds of people gathered in the Colorado House.
“Colorado has one of the best business climates and economy outlooks in the country, and if we stay disciplined and determined, we will get our economy back on solid footing.”
The governor drew immediate criticism from Republican leaders, however, when he likened their proposals to trimming the state’s budget in the face of a $1 billion revenue shortfall to nickel-and-dime ideas.
Though not singling out specific GOP legislators, Ritter called on people not to sit on the sidelines, criticize efforts to address the state’s problems and propose $10 solutions to fix a billion-dollar problem.
“He was looking right at me when he said it, too,” said Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction. “That comment is about as genuine as the thriving nature of the new energy economy. It’s just not factual. We have proposed hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts.”
Penry said he and his party will continue to argue for budget cuts and against raising taxes or fees.
The senator said he is dismayed that Ritter made that comment in nearly the same breath as the governor called for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to work together.
“Hopefully, we can get beyond that argument and identify some spending reductions that we can work on together,” Penry said.
“What was omitted from his speech was most telling, that he and the Democrats are proposing to raise taxes by another couple hundred million dollars to balance the budget,” he said.
One of the budget-balancing ideas lawmakers are expected to discuss this session are millions of dollars in business tax credits, some of which have been around for decades. Some lawmakers question whether the credits are actually helping the state’s economy.
In his speech, the governor also touted Democratic efforts to boost renewable energy, saying it has created jobs in the state at a time when the oil and gas industry is losing them.
He called for increasing the state’s renewable energy standard from 20 percent to 30 percent in the next decade.
Pam Kiely, director of Environment Colorado, praised the governor for setting that goal, saying if he gets there, it will mean Ritter will have tripled the standard that utilities are to produce power from renewable energy. It started out at 10 percent when voters approved it in 2004.
While some Republicans balked at increasing the standard, Ritter did earn some praise for saying the state needs to boost natural gas production in the state.
“We’re looking at ways to increase the use of Colorado natural gas to generate electricity, to reduce air pollution, to stabilize energy bills for consumers and to create jobs,” Ritter said.
Rep. Scott Tipton agreed, but added to that list reducing state regulations on the industry. While the Cortez Republican who’s also running against Democratic U.S. Rep. John Salazar for the 3rd Congressional District agreed that stricter oil and gas rules alone didn’t cause producers to slow down drilling, he said it didn’t help either.
“I’ve talked to the industry, I’ve talked to people who get their hands dirty, and they attribute (reduced drilling) to the policies passed by the ruling part in this Legislature and the governor,” Tipton said. “No question the price (of natural gas) has definitely impacted some of the development … the additional costs, the additional hurdles from the rules came at a bad time. We made Colorado a less attractive state for them.”
In his address, Ritter called for improving educational opportunities for Coloradans and their children, and operating state government smarter and cheaper.
He offered some strong words against three measures that will be on this year’s ballot to lower taxes, reduce fees and limit local and state governments’ ability to borrow money.
“If these measures pass, the state could never again support building another public school, library or recreation center,” Ritter said to applause from both sides of the aisle. “The cynical game the proponents are playing with our future would quite literally destroy the safety net and wipe out any hope of creating a better future for our children.”