Gubernatorial candidates say state has to do more for rural Colo.
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. – Colorado’s next governor needs to do more to help rural Coloradans deal with their problems, including health care, transportation and a growing problem with methamphetamine, the three gubernatorial candidates said Saturday.It was the first time the three candidates – Republicans Bob Beauprez and Marc Holtzman and Democrat Bill Ritter – participated together.Ritter, a former Denver prosecutor, said law enforcement officers in rural areas have been overwhelmed by crimes related to the growing use of methamphetamine and they need help from the state and federal government.He said the state needs to attack the problem from three sides: Step up prosecution, increase education and provide treatment to those who need it to get off the drugs.Holtzman said most illegal drugs are now coming across the border with Mexico and the United States needs to crack down on illegal immigrants. He said employers also need to know they will be held responsible for hiring illegal immigrants, and the governor needs to work with other Western states to fight the problem.Beauprez agreed that a lot of Colorado’s meth problem originates from issues at the border:”We have to get control of our borders and shut off the supply,” Beauprez said.Holtzman said the best way to control the spiraling cost of health care is to involve consumers, including a provision to provide them with health savings accounts. Beauprez said the best way to cut costs is to improve services, including electronic record keeping and telemedicine for rural areas. Ritter said he would convene a task force to come up with a Colorado solution.Holtzman said a lot of rural Coloradans depend on the state retirement plan and he called for an investigation of the $11 billion projected shortfall in the plan, saying someone should be held accountable if the board approved risky investments. He said the plan needs reforms, including a change from a defined benefit plan that guarantees benefits to a defined contribution plan controlled by the employees.”It’s a ticking time bomb for the people of Colorado,” Holtzman said.All three men agreed that severance taxes that were designed to compensate counties overwhelmed by oil and gas development should be used to help the Western Slope, where much of the development has occurred.They also agreed that the state needs to help rural Colorado with transportation problems. Beauprez said the state can help the Western Slope develop rail and regional airports. Holtzman said the state needs to expand the Interstate 70 and Interstate 25 corridors. Ritter pointed out that he was the only candidate who supported Referendum C asking taxpayers to give up $4 billion in tax surplus refunds over the next five years and said the state needs to invest a lot more money in its highway system.Holtzman said Beauprez has done little to help the state cope with its water problems and pointed out he is the only candidate who supported Referendum A, a plan that would have provided $2 billion in bonding for large water projects. The Western Slope saw it as an attempt to grab their water for development on the Front Range and helped to defeat it.Tom Cross, who attended the forum, said he wants to know what it will cost to cover the promises made at Saturday’s meeting before he decides which candidate he’ll support.”I heard talk isn’t cheap,” he said.His wife, Roz, said illegal immigration was her top concern.”I don’t think we can look the other way any longer,” she said.Vail, Colorado