Ritter’s budget legacy

When he gave his valedictory State of the State address last Thursday, Gov. Bill Ritter naturally mentioned some of the accomplishments of the three years he’s been Colorado’s chief executive. They include his efforts to expand the state’s role in what he calls the “new energy economy,” expansion in health care coverage for the poor, expanded pre-school and kindergarten offerings and additional money for roads.

However, through no fault of his, Ritter will also be tied indelibly to the most severe budget crunch since the Great Depression.

Ritter took office when the economy was booming and optimism was high. Less than two years later, the national economy and that of Colorado were in free fall, and Ritter was soon forced to wield a budget cleaver to chop billions of dollars from state spending.

Those cuts angered many people. Just mention the closing of the nursing facility at the Grand Junction Regional Center to many people in Mesa County today and you’re likely to receive an earful about Ritter. But Ritter performed the task with reasonable equity, given the broad nature of the cuts required. He wouldn’t have had to do so much on his own if the Legislature hadn’t punted on its responsibility to make substantial budget cuts last year.

During Thursday’s speech, Ritter pleaded for bipartisan support to close the $1.3 billion budget gap estimated for next year. The governor also took a shot at Republican lawmakers, saying it is not enough for legislators to sit on the sidelines and criticize.

He’s right, but he should have included members of his own party in the rebuke. Republicans did offer budget-cutting proposals last year, but most were shot down by the Democratic majority.

If Ritter truly wants a bipartisan effort, he and Democratic legislative leaders must be willing to consider proposals from the other side, not just say, “Here’s our budget proposal — take it or leave it.” Republicans, for their part, cannot just lament the horrors of the Democrats’ plan without offering serious measures of their own.


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