Colorado governor says progress made on major issues
Associated Press Writer
Denver, CO Colorado
DENVER, Colorado ” Gov. Bill Ritter said he and lawmakers managed to promote economic development, enact health care reform and create sustainable funding for transportation, despite one of the worst economic crises in generations.
“The 2009 legislative session will be remembered for its historic successes at developing the economy, strengthening communities, protecting the vulnerable and creating opportunity all across Colorado,” Ritter said as the Legislature entered the last three days of the session.
Among the top accomplishments cited this year by the governor and lawmakers are bills that would provide tax incentives to businesses that create 20 or more jobs, give homeowners and their lenders 90 days to avoid foreclosure and provide health care coverage to more than 100,000 uninsured Coloradans.
Ritter said a number of measures are still pending as lawmakers scramble to adjourn by midnight Wednesday. House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, announced Friday that he plans to adjourn a day early.
Carroll said the economic recession has placed a bigger burden on state government at a time when the state is being forced to cut $1.4 billion over two years.
“We ensured our most vulnerable populations were taken care of. We ensured our public education system will remain a top-notch education system. We worked hard to ensure our higher education system remains one of the best in the country,” Carroll said.
Rep. Jack Pommer, a Democrat from Boulder who will chair the Joint Budget Committee next year, said one of the biggest accomplishments this year was balancing the state’s $19.2 billion budget, signed Friday by Ritter.
“We had to make some really lousy cuts that I think we all feel pretty awful about. We did manage to preserve at least the basis for a social safety net. We did manage to make sure people who have mental illness will be able to get the treatment. All in all, I think it was about the best we could do,” Pommer said.
House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, said about $1 billion in next year’s budget will come from fees that will put an added burden on people who are struggling, including a new car registration fee that will hurt lower-income earners the most.
“A billion dollars from fees is nothing to be proud of,” May said.
May said Ritter and Democrats took one step forward and one step back on major issues this year, labeling transportation Job No. 1 and then eliminating the only long-term revenue source by eliminating a 6 percent limit on General Fund growth that funneled money to transportation.
He said Ritter ordered a statewide hiring freeze in October, then added 1,400 new employees to the state payroll. May said Ritter increased marriage fees by $100,000 a year while at the same time passing legislation giving taxpayer-paid benefits to gay and lesbian state workers.
Ritter said a big challenge next year will be to try to persuade voters of the need to lift limits on the state budget, including the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights or TABOR, which limits government tax and spending, Amendment 23, which requires annual increased spending on public education, and the Gallagher amendment, which limits residential property taxes to a percentage of total property tax revenues.
Ritter said a committee will study the issue this summer.