State of crisis

In his State of the State address last Thursday, Gov. Bill Ritter did not attempt to portray Colorado’s economic situation through rose-colored glasses. He was blunt about the tough times facing the state, and we appreciate that.

There were proposals mentioned in his speech that seem to make a great deal of sense, such as tax credits that encourage private job creation and a plan to use federal revenue to expand pipeline capacity so the state’s abundant natural gas can more easily reach markets.

Other proposals outlined by Ritter are more problematic. He didn’t go into detail about how he plans to obtain more revenue for Colorado’s roads and bridges, but some of the tax proposals discussed earlier could hurt outlying parts of the state. We’ll have more on that in a later editorial. And we need more information about the plan to assess new per-patient fees on hospitals to raise revenue for Medicaid before we comment on it.

A couple of Ritter’s statements require additional comment. One is his declaration about the need to change the TABOR Amendment because it acts as “a straitjacket” on state budgeting.

We have supported efforts to change — but not eliminate — TABOR, including an unsuccessful measure on last year’s ballot. But it must be noted that TABOR acts as a constraint on the state budget only when the economy and revenues are booming. That’s certainly not the case now. Facing massive budget shortfalls, Colorado is in no danger of exceeding TABOR’s limits for annual revenue growth.

Amendment 23, the measure that requires annual inflationary increases for public schools regardless of what is happening with the state budget, has a far greater impact on the budget now than TABOR. But Ritter didn’t mention Amendment 23.

The governor also asked lawmakers to finalize new state rules to regulate gas drilling. We have supported the process used to develop those rules and believe they are important for protecting Colorado’s health and environment.

However,  unlike some who support the rules, we don’t believe they are sacred writ that cannot be touched by the Legislature. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission developed the new regulations under a series of bills adopted by the Legislature in 2007.

Lawmakers have an obligation to review those rules now to see if they comport with that legislation, and amend them if needed.

Ritter made another important statement Thursday. “I will look at everything we work on this session through the lens of the economy,” he said. Given the economic crisis facing the state, he’s right. All other issues must be secondary to the economy.

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