Ritter touts long-term economic strategy in ‘State of the State’ address

DENVER– In a “state of the state” address at a Rotary Club polio benefit Thursday, Governor Ritter said natural gas and nuclear energy should be embraced as part of a clean energy portfolio, that he was “agnostic” on whether schools should be public or charter, and that he would ask voters to eliminate the budgetary constraints caused by the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights should he be elected to a second term.

<em>Gov. Bill Ritter</em>
Gov. Bill Ritter

As expected, Ritter spoke to the Rotarians about encouraging business development and used the speech to again outline the benefits of his “New Energy Economy” plan for the state.

He said we are living through a massive economic correction. He said his advisers have told him that he should consider present budget cuts as lasting because state revenues will not be rebounding any time soon.

But companies large and small, like those defecting from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce stance against climate change legislation, will make a difference in the state and the nation. . Our energy culure is changing, said Ritter. Massive companies such as Duke Energy, General Electric, Alcoa and Johnson & Johnson are seeking to embrace and advance a more sustainable energy sector.

Vestas wind energy company alone has brought 2,500 jobs to the state, Ritter said.

He also pointed to incentive breaks the state has given to business. The administration cut the small business personal property tax to help 30,000 businesses; over-hauled the tax structure to ease pressure on big businesses; and revived the Colorado credit reserve program. He said a tax credit for companies that create “a certain number of new jobs” spurred Repower USA to move its corporate headquarter from Oregon to the Colorado.

Ritter said his vision for Colorado is to expand research and education. Toward that end, he aims to develop full day kindergarten across the state and said he is continuing to work on a new assessment system that would eliminate the CSAP (Colorado Student Assessment Program).

“My wife is a teacher. She said ‘You will win every teacher’s vote if you just promise you will eliminate CSAP.”

The public will get behind the move to end CSAP, said Ritter, underlining his belief that the reforms his administration is enacting will help Colorado win stimulus Race to the Top funding for the school systems enacting the most innovative reform programs.

Answering questions about nuclear energy, Ritter said the main question concerns storage of spent radioactive fuel. The lack of political will to push for nuclear power has come as a result of wary attitudes toward nuclear power as dangerous. In order for nuclear to be a viable source of energy, he believes the Obama administration would have to work to educate the people on the benefits of nuclear power and on the safety of fuel storage.

“Most people who look at this absolutely feel that nuclear can play a role in reducing green house gas emissions but I think that it needs to be part of a comprehensive energy strategy. That can’t be the only thing we do.”

Other resources such as renewable resources, coal to clean coal, and natural gas could be brought online much quicker and provide a more near-term approach to energy generation, Ritter said.

“Those are all fairly immediate things that we need to do, and be about, and ask the question long term how much are we going to rely on nuclear and when are we going to build out.”

One member asked the Governor what he would do to provide increased choice and competition in the school system.

“I am agnostic. I don’t care if it is a public school, or a charter school, or private school, whatever. I want kids to learn,” he said.

He explained that his K-20 council has reached out to charter schools to be a part of defining the educational structure of Colorado. The state is interested in finding educational practices that work and making them part of the system. If a charter school comes to the state with a great plan, one that shows how to turn around students who are failing, he said, that school will find support.

“We will do anything we can to ensure the success of that charter school.”

One Rotarian asked what Ritter “planed to do” concerning TABOR and Amendment 23, which provides k-12 education yearly increases in funding regardless of economic downturns.

Ritter said he would leave alone provisions in TABOR that mandate voter approval for tax hikes. But because TABOR stops the state from “getting healthy” as the economy recovers, he will ask voters to remove the revenue caps that TABOR imposes. He said he plans to create a coalition to ask voters to remove those constraints on the 2011 ballot.

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