Gov. Ritter’s promises aren’t term-limited
Vail, CO Colorado
DENVER ” Bill Ritter was elected governor on promises that included halving school dropout rates, increasing renewable energy use and providing health insurance for 790,000 Coloradans without raising taxes. But he may not be around to keep them, at least by the time his freshman term ends in 2010.
Ritter’s deadline for cutting the high school dropout rate to 15 percent is 2016. Doubling renewable energy use: 2020. Health insurance: 2010, though the state has taken only token steps to increase coverage and Republicans say the state can’t afford it.
In his 54-page campaign platform, “The Colorado Promise,” Ritter vowed in bold letters to “set clear goals and objectives to let voters grade my administration on its performance.” He and fellow Democrats have formed at least 25 new or expanded commissions to study solutions.
But House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, said there are few benchmarks in the Colorado Promise by which to grade the governor, who took office in January. Setting up commissions, he said, doesn’t count.
“We can’t study forever. The people of Colorado sent us here to do a job. They expect us to be more than just students of the problems they face each and every day when they pay their health care bills, send their children to school and drive to work in the morning,” May said.
Ritter’s spokesman, Evan Dreyer, said the governor set a deadline of 2016 on his education goals because he wanted time to tackle issues that have been decades in the making. He said Ritter set up a commission to study health care because he wanted everyone involved to participate.
“It was an acknowledgement of the realities of trying to effect change in major policy. You cannot turn the ills of our education system on a dime,” Dreyer said. “Health care is another policy issue that isn’t something that is reformed overnight. It would be irresponsible to promise a quick fix on comprehensive health care. The challenge by 2010 is to figure out what that looks like and how to accomplish it.”
Dreyer said the governor has made progress on his long-range goals, getting several important bills passed this year that reduced prescription drug costs and provided more money for preschools and holding a higher education summit to study ways to increase public funding over the next 10 years.
In his campaign, Ritter promised:
” To improve education and keep college affordable.
College students and parents were stunned when the University of Colorado increased tuition by 14.6 percent for most students on the Boulder campus this year. Most in-state students in Boulder are paying $665 more in tuition, though their total bills are affected by the number of credit hours they take, family incomes and their degree tracks. Lawmakers said they had no choice but to allow the increase because of the state’s tax and spending limits. They insist voters were aware of those requirements when they allowed the state to keep $6 billion in tax surplus refunds over a five-year period to shore up the state budget.
Ritter has established a 32-member panel to make recommendations on cutting the dropout rate within 10 years. He also promised to double the number of students receiving degrees and certificates by 2016 and to close achievement gaps between men and women and among various ethnic groups.
” Create a Colorado Health Plan to cover the uninsured and underinsured. Ritter’s 32-member panel is studying five recommendations. It is supposed to submit a proposal by the end of the year, which the Legislature may or may not accept. Ritter will be able to say he made progress on his plan, but he didn’t get all he wanted.
” Stimulate the economy and attract new jobs. So far, the governor has gotten good marks for job creation, especially his program to promote renewable energy. In September, he outlined a plan to lure businesses to Colorado by slashing taxes, cutting red tape and concentrating on bioscience, aerospace and renewable energy. That package will be introduced in the Legislature next year.
” Establish Colorado as a national renewable energy leader. Early on, Ritter pushed a package of renewable energy programs through the Legislature. In March, the state doubled its goal to require that 20 percent of electricity come from renewable sources by 2020.
” Improve transportation and fix roads and bridges. Actually, there is little the governor can do because the state took the job of managing transportation out of the hands of lawmakers to depoliticize the process and placed it with an independent commission. Ritter set up a commission to study the state’s transportation needs and make recommendations to that panel.
” Ensure ample water supplies for all. Water continues to be a problem after the state shut down farmers’ wells in northeast Colorado to meet its obligations under a sharing pact with Kansas and Nebraska. Ritter set up a committee to study the problem and report back later this year.
Dreyer emphasized that the Colorado Promise consists of long-term goals. A better way to measure the governor’s performance, he said, is by promises Ritter made in his state of the state address in January.
Of 28 commitments the governor made in January, Ritter kept 18 and 10 are pending, according to lists compiled by the AP and a separate list the governor’s office is keeping.
Promises kept include adopting a Western Governors Association’s resolution calling for a 20 percent improvement in the efficiency of electricity use by 2020, and creating a Clean Energy Fund to help transfer technology to the marketplace. For health care, Ritter set up a multistate drug purchasing pool to lower costs and provided more money for mental health services for people in jail.
He also set a 2008 goal for meeting federal benchmarks of immunizing 80 percent of Colorado children ” a goal the state had already met.
Still pending: To streamline the bureaucracy, put together a list of transportation priorities by December, compile a list of public education reforms due in November and get recommendations from a task force on ways to reduce the cost of higher education.
Ritter’s only major first-term commitment concerns health insurance. A second term would run to 2014.