Easily defeating Republican Bob Beauprez, former Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter became Colorado’s next governor on Tuesday.
Just before the election, Ritter was in Colorado Springs, where he discussed his plans for the future, and his views about issues important to the local business community.
He said that the most pressing problem facing Colorado is transportation.
“We have to figure out a way to fund transportation over the long run,” Ritter said “We passed Referendum C, and that helps, but that’s not something that can be sustained over a long period of time. We need (to assure) the same level of long-term funding for the transportation infrastructure”
Relying on a blue ribbon commission, which he said he wants convene within a few weeks of taking office, Ritter said he wants to develop a bipartisan solution to solve what he believes are a structural problem in state government.
“We (Colorado residents) really need to have a conversation.”
Ritter is also aware that he will likely have to play a role in resolving the Colorado Springs/Pueblo dispute over the Southern Delivery System, the proposed billion-dollar project to bring water to Colorado Springs via a pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir. And he seemed prepared for the challenge.
“I’ll sit down with all the parties and try to work toward a solution,” he said. “I know that Mr. (Bob) Rawlings, the editor of the Pueblo Chieftain, has tried to stop this. There are a lot of lawyers involved — the law firm that I’ve been associated with has represented him. But I think that we can put some different solutions on the table, which will alleviate (Pueblo’s concerns) and still allow Colorado Springs to get the water they have a right to.”
However, Ritter said, it will be necessary to resolve water quality issues associated with Fountain Creek as a precondition for arriving at a comprehensive solution, which would permit the project to go forward.
“We’ll need some leadership,” he said. “Colorado Springs needs to focus their efforts on (resolving questions about) the disposal of effluents in Fountain Creek, and water quality in the Arkansas. There are a range of issues that are broader than SDS, and resolving them will help.”
Ritter was not specific about what steps he thinks Colorado Springs should take to resolve the “issues” but he did support positions during the campaign that were opposite those of Colorado Springs Utilities.
For example, CSU opposed a bill introduced during the last legislative session by Pueblo Rep. Buffye McFadyen which would allow Water Court judges to take into account water quality when considering applications for water rights changes. The bill passed in the House, but failed in the Senate.
Ritter made it clear that as governor, if the bill reached his desk, he would sign it.
Such law might remove one of Colorado Springs’ principal bargaining chips as it negotiates with Pueblo over SDS, opening the door for Pueblo to demand more concessions in return for permitting construction to begin.
Ritter also talked about what he could do to increase the availability of venture capital for high-tech businesses, particularly in the Springs.
“The governor is really the chief sales person for the state and I think that there are tremendous opportunities for us in high-tech in IT, in telecommunications, in broadcast communications — in all of those industries,” he said. “VC and private equity funding follows businesses, not particular locations. We need to market the state — make people aware that we’re open for business and attract the kind of businesses that draw funding, (and) link them to educational institutions. If we do, I’m convinced that we really have the possibility of becoming a third hub, after Silicon Valley and Route 128.”
Another of the governor-elect’s top priorities is affordable health care. Ritter supports allowing Colorado to join a multi-state purchasing pool to acquire discounted prescription drugs for Medicaid recipients.
A bill authorizing and requiring such action passed both houses of the legislature last year but was vetoed by Gov. Bill Owens.
Proponents, who believed that the bill would save the state millions of dollars annually, accused Owens of caving in to the pharmaceutical industry. Opponents applauded the governor, citing concerns about restrictions created by such programs which, they claimed, might limit access to lifesaving drugs.
Ritter was clear about what he will do. “We should be part of a multi-state purchasing pool,” he said.
But he wants to work with the legislature to craft a solution, not simply issue an executive order.
“In the last session, the governor was not as significantly involved as perhaps he should have been in working out these issues,” Ritter said. “At the end of next year’s session, I want to see a bill on my desk that addresses the question of formularies, particularly for the disabled community.”