Colorado State Archives
Executive Orders from the Administration of Governor Bill Owens 1999-2005
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(Denver) – In his seventh State of the State address, Gov. Bill Owens today presented a strong, detailed and common-sense agenda for Colorado to stabilize the state budget, continue to bolster education from kindergarten through college, address Colorado's water needs and improve the accessibility and affordability of health care.
In his address to a joint session of the General Assembly, the Governor called on state legislators "to work together to make Colorado stronger and more prosperous."
"We may come from different political parties but there are major bonds that unite us. Each of us comes to work under this dome with the goal of doing what is best for our state," Owens said.
A centerpiece of the address was the Governor's plan to forge fiscal health in the midst of a General Fund budget being whipsawed by Amendment 23 and TABOR.
Owens highlighted Colorado's low unemployment rate, its high per capita personal income rate (8th highest nationally) and the state's position as a leader in creating new jobs (3rd highest nationally). However, the Governor also noted that state Constitutional and federal spending mandates are creating conflicts within the budget.
"It's become fashionable in many circles to blame TABOR for every challenge Colorado faces," Owens said. "That's not accurate. The state experienced an unprecedented 16 percent drop in revenue over two years while at the same time we had fixed costs including the Constitutional requirements of Amendment 23 and federal mandates such as Medicaid."
The Governor made it clear that he intends to actively engage with the Legislature in the TABOR discussions. "We need to take the common-sense step of using the specific provisions of TABOR," Owens said. "Let's ask the taxpayer's permission to keep some of the available TABOR surplus. The key is to let taxpayers know specifically what the funds will be used for."
As part of his Fiscal Stabilization Plan, Owens also proposed rolling back the personal income tax from 4.63% to 4.5% and investing $100 million annually in transportation for badly needed road projects across the state. Owens added, "Let me be clear about what this plan does not do. It does not eliminate spending caps. It does not eliminate the right to vote on tax increases. It does not erase accountability to our taxpayers."
In addressing the $175 million to be generated this year from the tobacco tax that went into effect Jan. 1, Owens said it would be a "huge mistake" to spend it all now. He instead recommended earmarking $130 million for health program improvements while setting aside $45 in the first year to create a Trust Fund to support future programs. "The temptation is to spend the money now. We know from the experience of other states that tobacco revenue drops over time," Owens said.
The Governor proposed using a portion of the revenue to expand the Child Health Plan Plus (CHIP+) program, to increase availability of cancer treatment for women under age 40 who have been ineligible and to devote funds to Sen. Peter Groff's (D-Denver) and Lt. Gov. Jane Norton's study aimed at improving health care for minority populations.
Concerning K-12 education, the Governor said the reforms requiring school accountability and academic standards are working. Owens cited the Fountain-Fort Carson School District and its superintendent, Dr. Dwight Jones, as an example of significant progress. One of the district's schools, Abrams Elementary – where 44 percent of the students qualify for the free or reduced-priced lunch program – has seen its fourth grade reading score increase by 147 percent in the past six years.
"I want to make one point crystal clear. The accountability system works. I will oppose any effort to weaken our reforms or take these tools out of the hands of our parents and teachers. We will not turn back," Owens said.
Owens also vowed not to retreat from tort reform, from having a common sense workers' compensation policy or from the state's position as a safe haven from Internet taxation. The Governor pointed to water as another challenge facing Coloradans. Of the 23 legislative solutions proposed since 1998 to provide the state with needed water resources, all have failed. Owens proposed the creation of Inter-Basin Water Compacts between the various water basins in Colorado, similar to the compacts between states. Owens credited former Colorado Speaker of the House Russ George, who today leads the Department of Natural Resources, with creating the plan. Sen. Abel Tapia (D-Pueblo) and Rep. Josh Penry (R-Grand Junction) will carry the legislation.
Among those honored at today's State of the State address was Matt Casias who was awarded the Governor's Medal of Valor. In October, Casias, the owner of a print shop on Sante Fe Drive, came to the defense of a woman, Brenda Turner, who was being attacked outside his store. Casias was shot by the assailant.
Owens said there are many reasons that Casias is a hero. "He had a scrape with the law as a teenager and doesn't want other young people to repeat his mistakes. So he turned part of his business into a boxing gym, to give young men a way to build character, and to provide an oasis in a city that sometimes offers dangerous choices. Casias is an example for all of us."
Also recognized was Major Doug Paul of the Colorado National Guard, a veteran of the War on Terror in Afghanistan and Iraq. Major Paul was representative of the scores of Coloradans sacrificing themselves for the defense of our country. He was seriously wounded by a rocket explosion while on duty in Iraq and continues to serve today with the Theater Special Operations.
In concluding his remarks, Owens recalled when he sat as a Republican in the State Legislature and the Governor's office was held by Democrats. He described how he was able to work successfully to pass important legislation despite those party differences, suggesting it will be a useful model moving forward in 2005. But Owens added, "I agree with President Reagan who once said, 'We will compromise. But we will not compromise our basic principles.' I won't either."
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