Tuesday, February 3, 2009


In a letter yesterday to Colorado's congressional delegation, Gov. Bill Ritter recommended changes to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that will increase the legislation's job-creation and economic-growth potential while also addressing uniqueColorado concerns.
"My office has been working closely with President Obama's team, our congressional delegation, local officials and business leaders on this recovery package for months," Gov. Ritter said today. "This is a new opportunity to forge a stronger state-federal partnership and get our economy moving again across the country and throughout Colorado.
"Coloradans are demanding that we all work together to create jobs. The federal recovery plan can make a difference to Coloradofamilies and to our long-term economic health, and I hope the Congress will consider these modifications."
Gov. Ritter's letter identifies several ways to strengthen the recovery package's job-creation and economic-stimulus impact, including:
Education: Amend the Senate version to allow governors to: 1) use the state stabilization component of the recovery package to offset mandated increases in K-12 spending in 2009, 2010 and 2011, and 2) increase funding for higher education to improve access and quality while mitigating tuition increases and loan debt.
Energy: Eliminate obstacles for utility companies that would lead to delays in distributing recovery dollars, and eliminate a prohibition in the weatherization program that would ban states from utilizing private contractors. "Allowing the use of private contractors would allow for greater operational efficiencies, create private sector jobs, and drive down costs for the federal government."
Transportation: Support the original requirement that transportation funds be obligated within 180 days of receipt, not 90 days, and support an amendment that allows Colorado to avoid a $159 million cut in transportation funding.
Forest Health: Support the House version because it provides greater flexibility to more effectively utilize these funds to protect communities and create jobs.
Broadband: Support the $9 billion funding level in the Senate version, and amend the legislation so that states can oversee distribution of grants and not the National Telecommunication and Information Administration.
Clean Water: Support the $6 billion funding level in the House version, which would provide $46 million for shovel-ready Coloradoprojects.
Health Care: Support Rep. Diana DeGette's proposal to increase by 2.5 percent the state Disproportionate Share Hospital allotment for safety-net providers.
Communities: Support the House version that allocates $1 billion each to the Community Development Block Grant, Community Service Block Grant and Low Income Home Energy Assistance programs to create jobs and help urban and rural communities.
Law Enforcement: Support the House version of the COPS and Byrne JAG grants because it allows greater flexibility to more effectively utilize these funds.
Here is the complete text of the letter:
February 2, 2009
Dear Members of Colorado's Congressional Delegation:
Colorado and the nation face economic challenges that have not been seen in decades.  In this environment, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan (ARRP) takes on considerable urgency and importance. 
Shortly after the election, we began working on how this legislation could be most helpful to Colorado.  I appreciate the time you and your staff have spent working with us on ARRP, which will be one of the most influential pieces of legislation this year.  In this continued spirit of collaboration, I write to suggest ways that the legislation can be further strengthened to address both uniqueColorado concerns, and to increase the job creation and economic growth potential of the legislation.
Fiscal Stabilization Funding:
As a key aspect of the ARRP, I strongly support the intent of the State Stabilization Fund which will provide much needed support for early childhood, K-12, and higher education as well as discretionary funding to address Colorado's highest priorities.  However, as currently drafted, the ARRP may not allow states to most effectively use this money, and is especially problematic for states likeColorado who have unique constitutional and statutory financial constraints on education spending.
As a priority for the future of Colorado, we have worked aggressively to increase support for K-12 and higher education.  I have raised education spending since fiscal year 2008—for both constitutional and intentional purposes—at great expense to other critical state services.  Moreover, in spite of my clear support of education, I recently recommended cuts to the
FY09 and FY10 budgets, resulting in the virtual elimination of recent gains in full-day kindergarten services and dramatic rollbacks to higher education funding at a time when Colorado is one of the most poorly funded and tuition dependent postsecondary education system in the nation.
For these reasons, the current language in the ARRP, restricting how education funds are used once FY 2008 spending levels are restored, would not allow Colorado to use these funds to most effectively address our most pressing education issues, and in fact, would not allow us to use these funds for higher education.
In response to these concerns, I would advocate amending the Senate version of the bill to permit Governors greater discretion in the use of State Stabilization Fund revenues.  Currently, the Senate bill allows states to meet existing state K-12 formula increases in fiscal years 2009, 2010, and 2011.  This type of flexibility should also be available for public higher education spending using FY 2008 as a floor rather than a ceiling. Similarly, the Senate bill allows states to use remaining funds for subgrants to local education agencies.  I would request that these funds also be available to public institutions of higher education. 
Energy Programs:
The energy programs included in the ARRP represent a remarkable opportunity to train workers, create jobs, reduce families' utility costs, address climate change, and accelerate the nation's transition to a New Energy Economy.  For these reasons, we hope you will support the House funding levels for the State Energy Program (SEP) and Weatherization Program, and maintain support for Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grants currently in the ARRP.  While questions have been raised about the ability to put this money to work quickly, I can assure you that Colorado, as well as many other states, is fully prepared to maximize the economic stimulative and job creation potential through public-private partnerships with utilities, contractors, energy service companies, and local governments.  In the process jobs will be created, and significant dividends paid as the SEP builds upon its track record of returning $7 in energy savings for every federal dollar invested.
Consistent with the objective of rapid implementation and job stimulus, we would suggest eliminating the requirement to adopt the latest energy codes and decoupling policies for utilities as this would delay distribution of stimulus money.  Finally, please consider eliminating the Weatherization program prohibition against working with private industry.  Allowing the use of private contractors would allow for greater operational efficiencies, create private sector jobs, and drive down costs for the federal government.
The Colorado Department of Transportation has worked extensively with our transportation planning partners across the state in developing $1.3 billion in Colorado shovel-ready transportation projects.  We are eager to put ARRP transportation funding to work creating jobs and building an infrastructure to support quality of life and economic growth.  These funds are especially important and timely as they would come at a time when Colorado is responding to the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars of federal transportation support.  While Colorado is prepared to put these funds to work immediately, we also want to be thoughtful and effective in making the best use of the resources.  For this reason, we support the original 180 day window to obligate 50% of the funds, and ask for your opposition to the recent amendment reducing the period to 90 days.  Additionally, we understand Senator Kit Bond will offer an amendment to repeal the $8.7 billion SAFETEA-LU rescission.  We ask for your support of this amendment as it allows Colorado to avoid a $159 million cut in transportation spending.
The importance of broadband as a transformative technology will only increase over time as it supports a growing array of applications ranging from distance learning to tele-medicine to tele-commuting to public safety communications. Increased broadband access will create jobs, create economic growth and improve the quality of life for many Coloradans.  We hope, therefore, that you will support the Senate ARRP funding level of $9 billion to expand broadband access to rural areas.  Additionally, we urge caution concerning the centralization of the program within the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) as it would create an overwhelming administrative burden for the NTIA.  Rather, we would recommend that, at a minimum, the bill be amended to authorize and encourage NTIA to delegate the selection and distribution of the relevant grants to competent state entities.
EPA Clean Water Funds:
Colorado currently has over $300 million of shovel ready, clean water projects.  Funding for these projects not only addresses a pressing public need, but also quickly creates jobs.  In this regard, we request your support for the House AARP funding level of $6 billion, which will provide $46 million for Colorado projects and represents $14 million more than the Senate bill.
Health Care:
Thank you for working so closely with my office regarding the FMAP increase for Medicaid.  At this point, our analysis shows that the benefit to Colorado is very similar in the House and Senate versions of the bill, and very sensitive to projections on the rate of growth in unemployment.  We welcome the opportunity to continue working with you as we monitor FMAP changes in the Senate bill and as this issue is addressed in the Conference Committee.  Further, we appreciate Congresswomen DeGette's leadership in adding a 2.5% increase in the state Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) allotment, which will be very helpful in supporting our safety net providers, and hope that the Senate will also include these funds.
Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), Community Service Block Grants (CSBG), Low Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEA):
For communities and individuals who have been most severely impacted by the economic downturn, increased support through CDBG, CSBG, and LIHEA represents an important response.  We request your support for the House's recommended $1 billion allocation for each of these programs.  We appreciate the Congressional Budget Office's concern about the challenges involved in quickly allocating CDBG and CSBG funds, however, we would point out that Colorado has completely revamped its allocation program and can efficiently and effectively distribute the funds.  Finally, this funding will not only help those most in need, but will also create jobs, and help both urban and rural Colorado communities.
State and Local Law Enforcement:
Both the Senate and House bills provide much needed support for law enforcement.  Through increased funding for COPS and Byrne JAG grants, additional state and local law enforcement personnel will be put to work addressing public safety issues.  On this issue, we hope you will advocate for the House version of the bill, as it allows greater flexibility to use the funds most effectively.
Forest Health:
Colorado and the west face dire forest conditions and extreme fire danger due to many factors including ongoing drought, insect infestation and the impacts of climate change.  While both the House and the Senate ARRP bills include forest health funding, we encourage adoption of the House bill which has a higher funding level and provides greater flexibility to use the funds most effectively.
Thank you for your leadership and continued work with my office on this matter.  We look forward to enactment of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, and working to put people to work and jump start the economy as we implement the legislation on behalf of the people of Colorado.
Bill Ritter, Jr.