Thursday, January 10, 2008




Major education overhaul, economic-development plans and health-care reform are hallmarks

of Governor's second annual speech to the people and legislature


Gov. Bill Ritter delivered his second annual State of the State Address to the people of Colorado and the legislature today, announcing major bi-partisan plans to revitalize Colorado's education systems, strengthen businesses and the economy, and address health-care cost, quality and access issues.


"It's my hope that each of us approaches this new legislative session with a sense of hope, of promise and of immense possibility," Gov. Ritter said. "My hope for the next 120 days is that we strengthen what is great about Colorado and build on the work we started in 2007. We must make steady progress across the board, doing what we know is right and what we can afford. This will take discipline, focus, leadership and courage."


Gov. Ritter offered a bold and ambitious vision for building a better Colorado – a vision that calls for aggressive progress on education reform and business development, and steady building-block strategies for health-care reform, higher-education and transportation funding and continuing broad-based on how best to address the conflicting provisions in our Constitution.


Setting his priorities for the second regular session of the 66th General Assembly, Colorado's 41st governor outlined an agenda that focuses on:


Education Reform – Gov. Ritter announced the "Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids," a revolutionary proposal to align content standards for pre-school through high school with college admission standards. This will take unprecedented collaboration from the Departments of Education and Higher Education to establish new policies that measure actual student learning and proficiency and prepare all Colorado kids for college or a career in the 21st century.


The bi-partisan plan will be co-sponsored by Senators Chris Romer (D-Denver) and Josh Penry (R-Fruita) and Representatives Rob Witwer (R-Genessee) and Christine Scanlan (D-Silverthorne).

Gov. Ritter's announcement was made the same day Education Week magazine gave Colorado a "C" and ranked it 38th in the nation for overall education performance and policies. "Education is the cornerstone of our economy and it dictates how we will move Colorado forward in the 21st century," Gov. Ritter said. "If ever there was a place to be bold and ambitious, to push hard and fast against the status quo, this is it. We have to think bigger about revitalizing our education systems than ever before, or the world will pass us by."

Other components of Gov. Ritter's education package include moving forward on recommendations from his P-20 Education Coordinating Council, co-chaired by Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien, business leader Bruce Benson and CSU-Pueblo President Joe Garcia.
Those recommendations include offering full-day kindergarten to 22,000 more children over five years, eliminating the current 3,000-child waiting list for the Colorado Pre-School Program, and creating a Colorado Counselor Corps that would deploy 70 guidance counselors into targeted middle and high schools to keep students in school and get them ready for college.
Economic Development – Gov. Ritter declared that strengthening the state's robust economic climate will be another priority during the legislative session. Bills will be co-sponsored by Representatives Cheri Jahn, Jim Riesberg, Joe Rice, Mary Hodge and Bernie Buescher, and Senators Bob Bacon, Bob Shaffer, Steve Ward and Suzanne Williams. Proposals include:
·         Increasing the Business Personal Property Tax exemption threshold from $2,500 to $7,000, easing the tax burden for more than 30,000 Colorado small businesses.
·         Establishing a single-sales factor for corporations to calculate their Colorado taxes.
·         Creating a $3.5 million annual Life and Bio-Sciences Business Development Fund and dedicating $3.5 million from the Clean Energy Fund to economic-development activity.
Gov. Ritter also called for bi-partisan collaboration to make meaningful progress on complex funding issues for higher education and transportation – two pillars of Colorado's economy.
Gov. Ritter also introduced the three co-chairs of his new Jobs Cabinet, which will strive to ensure that Colorado's economic-development strategies, education programs and regional workforce needs are aligned and producing a high-quality, 21st century labor force. The co-chairs are: Ruth Ann Woods, president of Trinidad State Junior College; Qwest vice president Teresa Taylor, and long-time civic leader and local attorney Jim Lyons.
Health Care Reform – Controlling costs, eliminating waste, improving quality and expanding access to public health programs for low-income children and other vulnerable populations will dominate reform efforts in 2008. Gov. Ritter said he is directing his health-care team to spearhead a collaborative effort that will address cost and quality and involve multiple stakeholders, including insurance companies, hospitals and physicians.
In 2007, the Administration enrolled an additional 10,000 eligible children into Child Health Plan Plus and 2,500 more eligible low-income adults into Medicaid. Plans call for enrolling an additional 17,000 children this year, simplifying and streamlining the application process for eligible Medicaid families, fully funding the Childhood Immunization Information System, expanding the prevention-first "Medical Home" model for Medicaid children, implementing five disease-management programs, and requesting $10.6 million to improve services and facilities for people with developmental disabilities.
Other highlights from Gov. Ritter's speech:
Public Safety – Gov. Ritter announced plans for legislation that will create a School Safety Resource Center, which will work with local schools and districts around Colorado to create individually tailored safety programs. The resource center would be established through Senate Bill 1, being co-sponsored by Sen. John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) and Rep. Amy Stephens (R-Monument). The Governor also said the Departments of Corrections, Public Safety and Human Services will continue the work begun in 2007 to reduce the state's high rate of offenders returning to prison within three years of release. Gov. Ritter also is requesting funds to increase monitoring of county foster-care programs.
New Energy Economy – "Last year, I stood before you and said the New Energy Economy would become our calling card to the 21st century," Gov. Ritter said. "And it has. It serves as a hallmark for what responsible and forward-thinking public policy can achieve. It's more than just a collection of laws. It's a new direction for the entire state."
Gov. Ritter announced the next phase of the New Energy Economy: "Bringing Home the New Energy Economy." Plans call for creating a Colorado Carbon Fund, new residential solar and insulation incentives, and tools to help people and businesses reduce their carbon footprint.
Gov. Ritter said Rep. Judy Solano and Sen. Brandon Shaffer will be sponsoring net-metering, or home-grown energy, legislation that would require utilities to provide financial credit to people and businesses that sell solar- and wind-generated electricity back onto the energy grid.
Gov. Ritter also introduced the recipients of the first Governor's Excellence in Renewable Energy Awards: Craig Cox from Intrawest Energy Alliance; New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins; the Fort Carson Army Post; the NortheastDenver Housing Center; and the Smiley Building in Durango.
Government Efficiency  Representatives Andy Kerr and Bernie Buescher and Senators Bill Cadman and John Morse will co-sponsor legislation to consolidate the state's splintered Information Technology systems under one roof in the Governor's Office of Information Technology. Gov. Ritter also said he expects to report additional findings from his government-efficiency review later this spring. The review already has identified $145 million in five-year savings and benefits.
Voting and Elections – Gov. Ritter said he is working with Secretary of State Coffman, legislators and county clerks to ensure secure and fair elections in 2008.
Natural Resources – Gov. Ritter said he is looking forward to legislation addressing forest health, conservation easements and the Federal Mineral Lease distribution formula, keeping local impacts as his top priority.
"A year after my inaugural address, I believe more than ever that hope wins out over cynicism," Gov. Ritter said.  "I believe that if we govern well, we can build a public trust in the institutions of government. I believe in the Colorado Promise, doing all we can to fulfill the God-given potential inside every one of us. Our goals are ambitious. Achieving them will only happen over the course of time, with patience and prudence and reason. We made enormous progress in 2007, and we will continue to push ahead in 2008."