Updated: December 1, 2009 at 12:00 am
Gov. Bill Ritter defended his cuts to local governments today, saying that Colorado was in the “worst recession since the Great Depression.”
In a speech this morning to a statewide gathering of county officials in Colorado Springs, Ritter said he knew that the budget cuts were unpopular, but added that he tried to spread them across the board so everybody would experience an equal amount of pain.
“I couldn’t protect everything,” he conceded.
Ritter was the keynote speaker at a three-day conference of Colorado Counties, Inc. under way at the Crowne Plaza. After delivering his speech, county officials marched up to microphones to question him.
Among the first to line up were El Paso County commissioners Amy Lathen and Sallie Clark, who have been sharp critics of the governor’s policies.
Lathen asked the governor if he would work with county officials to repeal the FASTER legislation, which was approved by the Legislature during the 2009 session and will raise vehicle registration fees for many vehicles by $41 over the next three years. She also asked Ritter if he would fight a proposed vehicle mileage travel tax that will likely resurface in the Legislature next year.
Ritter said he had no plans to repeal FASTER, which essentially means that drivers will pay the equivalent of one extra tank of gas annually. The funds, he said, will be used to repair the state’s roads and bridges.
Ritter also signaled that he might support a proposed vehicle mileage travel tax which could resurface in the upcoming session and would be determined by affixing some sort of sensor to vehicles. “As cars become more efficient, drivers are paying less in fuel taxes,” he said.
Clark, who is county chairwoman for Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis, also queried the governor about cuts to local social services programs and a proposal by a blue-ribbon panel to consolidate human services. “When the state keeps pushing the burden down to the local level, how are we to keep our safety nets operating?” Clark asked.
Ritter, who is a blunt speaker, reiterated that everybody has to share in the pain. “This is what’s demanded of the times,” he said.
After receiving a restrained ovation, Ritter went downstairs to participate in a news conference to endorse the new law that went into effect today banning texting while driving and forbidding drivers under the age of 18 from using cell phones at all.
“No text or phone call is worth a human life,” said Ritter who has four children between the ages of 16 and 23.
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