DENVER - Despite an economy in crisis, Gov. Bill Ritter called for new investments in transportation, health care, renewable energy and jobs Thursday in his annual State of the State address.
"The path forward will require tough choices and great cooperation. We are feeling pain. But Colorado is still better off than many other states because we've made smart investments and steady progress the past two years," Ritter said in a speech to a joint session of the state House and Senate.
Ritter and legislators are facing a $600 million shortfall. They will ensure that public safety and safety-net programs are protected, but many other public services will be cut back, Ritter said.
"This will be hard on the public and hard on public servants like those of you here today," Ritter said. "We've asked state employees for their ideas, and we will ask them to sacrifice, too."
State employee pay cuts will be part of the solution, he said.
But the crisis presents an opportunity to fix the "constitutional straightjacket" of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, Ritter said.
House Minority Leader Mike May called the Ritter's attack on TABOR the only disappointing part of his speech.
"If you can connect the dots from TABOR to this economic situation, I'll buy you lunch," said May, R-Parker.
In a speech that blended somber and optimistic tones, Ritter said he understands the pain of job loss because his father was out of work at times.
"There were times when my mother put dinner on the table using food stamps for me and my 11 brothers and sisters," Ritter said.
Despite the tough times, he plans to ask for auto-related fee increases to pay for a transportation bill Democrats have dubbed Funding Advancements for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery, or FASTER.
"This will take political courage and strong leadership, because this will not be free. It will require asking people to invest more in a down economy," Ritter said.
He also outlined new initiatives in health care, high school education, solar power and mortgage protection in his 34-minute speech.
"One hundred years from now, I want Coloradans to look back and see this as the turning point - the point when we set aside partisan politics and worked together as Coloradans and built a New Energy Economy, a modern transportation system and the country's best education system," Ritter said.
Rep. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, didn't hear much new in the speech. She took issue with Ritter's claim that investments in clean energy have buffered Colorado from the recession. If anything has helped, she said, it's an educated populace and resources such as natural gas.
"I would be concerned for any spending that is done on a trial-and-error basis at this point. I think we should go to basics. Roads are key," she said.
Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, said Ritter impressed him with a fairly optimistic tone.
"He didn't come here to complain about a lack of funds. He came here to present us with a lot of challenges in a lot of areas," Isgar said.