Eagle: Gov. sees slow recovery, bright spots
Eagle, CO Colorado
EAGLE, Colorado – About 80 people gathered at the Eagle County building in Eagle on Thursday afternoon for a town meeting with state Gov. Bill Ritter.
During the hour-long session, the Democratic governor addressed the economic recession, touched on the state’s budget crisis and highlighted a number of initiatives he has spearheaded. He also answered questions from the audience.
Ritter said a recent meeting with economists suggested the recession will not abate in the immediate future. Some economists predicted the economy would not begin to turn around until 2010, he said. And some experts claim by 2011, the nation will have lost 3 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007, Ritter noted.
“Most people think it’s going to be a fairly slow recovery,” he said.
That said, Ritter was quick to point out a few bright spots in the economy. CNBC ranked Colorado third in its list of “America’s Top States for Business ’09, he said.
Also, Ritter said the state has made strides toward a “new energy economy” including jobs created through wind and solar power.
Along with outlining the challenges facing the state, Ritter summed up a few of his administration’s successes, including:
• Tax credits for companies in urban and rural areas that create jobs
• A plan to generate $250 million in transportation funding to help repair 125 bridges deemed structurally deficient across the state by charging late fees for auto registrations.
• Providing health insurance to 100,000 uninsured Coloradans through the Colorado Healthcare Affordability Act. Funding for the program comes from a provider fee the state leverages on hospitals, with matching funds from the federal government. There are 800,000 uninsured people in the state.
That last initiative raised a concern for Eagle resident John Chizmadia.
“Part of the national debate involves providing healt hcare for people who are here illegally… If that drain on our system isn’t addressed, we’re in trouble,” he said.
Chizmadia posed the question: How many of the 100,000 people who are going to be insured are in this country illegally?
“As it relates to adults: zero,” Ritter said, noting the law forbids using public funds to insure illegal immigrants.
It is less clear whether the program would apply to children who are in the country illegally. Under some emergency circumstances, state law allows for providing those kids with health care, Ritter said.
“That’s not the big drain on our system,” he said. “The biggest provider of unreimbursed care in Colorado is the Denver health system. They have about $345 million dollars in unreimbursed care … there’s a lot of other uninsured people.
“That 800,000 uninsured, that’s not counting people who are undocumented. Those are citizens who are here legally.”
A woman who declined to provide her name brought up a U.S. Census report that listed Colorado 40th among states for per pupil education spending. Ritter explained the mechanics behind the state funding formula, and noted that higher education is in even more “dire straits” when it comes to funding.
Ritter said he was able to go to Colorado State University and law school because he received financial aid.
“I’m afraid kids that are situated like I was when I was 17, that those kids situated like that today are not going to research universities,” he said. “They’re making other education decisions .. .This leads to a bigger discussion. We have to go in and rework these constitutional restriction and mandates. Work them together but get to a place where we really are truly investing in K through 12 adequately but also higher ed.”
Eagle resident Arn Menconi asked Ritter for help with convening a meeting between state ski resorts and foundations that promote outdoor education for children. He envisions planning an after school program for youths. Menconi had been speaking as the executive director of SOS Outreach in Avon, an organization he founded that tries to help kids do better in school while learning winter and summer sports.