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Gov. Bill Owens’ 2005 State of the State address

Political aisle more divided than united

By Leigh E. Rich

The “state of our great state is sound,” so said Gov. Bill Owens during his seventh State of the State address on the House floor on Thursday.

Not so, rebutted the state Democrats via a rushed press release disseminated by the Senate Majority office shortly after the governor concluded his 46-minute speech.

Leaving Coloradans wondering: Which is it?

It seems that the Dems, now in charge of both chambers, and Colorado’s Republican governor want to have it both ways—being seen as reaching across party lines but without having to compromise.

At least that’s what the governor’s address and the Dems’ press release each intimate.

Since the state losses for his party on Election Day, Owens has repeatedly said he looks forward to working with his “friends” across the aisle. Even his second-in-command, Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, pledged as much last week when she spoke to the City Club of Denver.

But Owens concluded the legislative portion of his address by vowing to bring out the veto pen if asked to “compromise” on tort or workers’ comp reform, school choice or Internet taxation.

And only about half of the state senators and representatives crowding the House chamber applauded his promises to “not retreat.” The other half sat politely but quietly still.

Regardless, Owens emphasized at the opening of his speech the “major bonds that unite” both political parties.

The Democrats’ rebuttal tells a different story, taking aim with the governor on his views of Colorado’s economy, its K-12 and higher education systems, its quality of life and the current budget crisis.

The press release also asks, in response to Owens’ vow to veto: “Is that a threat?”

It was the second day of the Legislature’s 120-day session, and it seems that Democrats and Republicans are standing more toe-to-toe than seeing eye-to-eye.

After applauding some of his own administration’s programs that benefit children and the men and women serving in Colorado’s armed forces, Owens highlighted the state’s successes “with optimism for the year ahead.”

“Jobs are up, with broad improvement across the economy. Unemployment is down almost a full percentage point from when we met last year to 5 percent,” Owens said.

And “Colorado’s per capita personal income ranks eighth in the nation.”

Owens also touted other of “our many accomplishments,” in terms of the state’s technology sector, the performance and accountability of K-12 schools, the Child Health Plan Plus program, environmental preservation, and the overall quality of life that Colorado offers.

The Democrats disagreed with Owens’ depiction of a “sound” state, noting that the “structural deficit is $290 million” and that Colorado ranks 50th in bankruptcies.

The governor had said he was “proud of the fact that our state had the second lowest rate of business closings last year.”

The Dems also insinuated that the governor’s statistics on education don’t reflect the “real facts,” such as Colorado ranking 32nd in the nation in per-pupil expenditures, 49th in K-12 revenue, 35th in high school graduation rates, and “dead last in the percentage of state wealth devoted to public schools.”

On the other hand, some of the disagreements pointed out by the Democrats seem petty, more akin to an election season than the start of a bipartisan working relationship.

“You know he must be grasping for straws when the governor touts Boulder” as ranking second in desirable places to live, the Dems’ statement proclaims.

The Democrats also wondered if Owens insinuated that health care “jobs might be outsourced to India” when he talked about improving care in underserved rural communities via telemedicine.

However, the governor clearly stated: “A world-class cancer specialist in Denver, for example, can diagnose a patient outside Delta. An obstetrician in Colorado Springs can help a woman on the Eastern Plains who’s having a tough pregnancy.”

Not surprisingly, much of the feedback on the State of the State focused on the looming elephant in the room—how to fix the state budget.

The “governor’s math doesn’t work” as laid out in the plan he proposed last month, the press release states. “It leaves the state $144 million in the hole over five years.”

And the Democrats criticized Owens’ depiction of Amendment 23 as a “mistake” and his pride in Colorado’s “world-class institutions” of higher education, whose funding, they say, has been cut by 21 percent or $156 million in the past two years.

“If you are so proud of the institutions,” the statement asks, “then why cut their budget?”

As for the mandated yearly increase in K-12 funding voters passed in 2000, the Democrats rebut: “You can’t spend five minutes talking about ‘how far we’ve come’ and say ‘we must sustain this momentum,’ and then turn around and call the funding measure that allowed that to happen, Amendment 23, a ‘mistake.’

“You can’t have it both ways, governor.”

Rich, L. E. (2005, January 14). Gov. Bill Owens’ 2005 State of the State address: Political aisle more divided than united. The Colorado Statesman, p. 15.

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