Ambitious agenda

Gov. Ritter outlines energy, education, health care goals

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The agenda is in place, but is the money?

Speaking to a packed house at the Yacht Club restaurant Sunday in Steamboat Springs, Gov. Bill Ritter thanked Routt County supporters and outlined several goals for his newly born administration. Colorado's 41st governor said he plans to expand renewable energy, increase education funding and provide access to basic health care for all Colorado citizens by 2010. The polished plan ---- which Ritter presented to eight other communities during a weekend tour of the state -- excited much of the enthusiastic Steamboat crowd, but several attendees questioned where the Democratic governor will find the money for his message.

Ritter acknowledged that it will take time to overcome budgetary constraints and enact policies he called "ambitious."

"We have a vision for this state, but we understand it is going to be a long-range vision," he said.

Rep. Al White, a Winter Park Republican who serves on the state's Joint Budget Committee, has said the proposed budget for the state's 2007-08 fiscal year is $20 million "out of balance," meaning it includes $20 million more in spending than the state constitution allows, largely due to proposed funding increases for the Colorado Department of Corrections.

But fresh off his Jan. 9 inauguration, Ritter focused Sunday on the ends rather than the means. He said Colorado's intellectual and natural resources have the state "poised to be a leader" in the development and use of renewable energy.

"This is the thing Colorado can be about," Ritter said. "We can play a role in this country becoming energy-independent."

Developing renewable energy will require a technologically savvy, "21st-century workforce," Ritter said, meaning Colorado must significantly improve its current rank of 49th in the country for per-pupil state spending.

"K-12 education, and higher education, will always be for us a funding priority ---- it absolutely has to be," said Ritter, whose wife Jeannie Ritter is a substitute teacher in Denver. "It will undergird all of the decisions we make."

That statement was good news for Jeff Troeger, vice-president of the Steamboat Springs School Board and a professor of business and technology at Colorado Mountain College.

"I'm very encouraged," Troeger said. "We just have to figure out ways to pay for it all. And that might mean changing priorities."

White said last month that Colorado will need $832 million "to fund higher education at a level equal to the rest of the country."

Ritter also said Sunday that he plans to provide relief for the 770,000 Colorado citizens without health care.

"By the time 2010 comes around, we will have some access to basic primary care for every citizen in Colorado," Ritter said.

Craig City Council member Terry Carwile praised Ritter's remarks and said that as a former Denver district attorney, the governor has experience with tough jobs -- and has shown a willingness to work with the Republican Party to achieve common goals.

"That shows an appealing level of pragmatism," Carwile said. "He's got some hide on him."

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