Friday, September 26, 2008

Judicial Branch Imposes Hiring Freeze, Too

The Colorado Judicial Branch today announced that it, too, will reduce spending this fiscal year by imposing a statewide hiring freeze.

Judicial Branch managers will be permitted to finalize the hiring process only if a candidate has been offered and accepted a position by Oct. 3. Positions determined to have a direct and immediate effect on public safety, or the effective operation of the courts, may be approved for hire on an individual basis.

“As one of the three co-equal branches of government, we are always mindful of the need to ensure taxpayers’ funds are used in the most effective and efficient manner possible,” Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey said. “Careful stewardship of those funds, particularly with thought to the future, becomes even more important in these difficult economic times."

The freeze takes effect Oct. 3.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ritter Announces Hiring Freeze, Halted Projects to Save State Dollars

Facing a budget shortfall of several hundred million dollars, Gov. Bill Ritter today announced several steps, including a hiring freeze, to reduce state spending.

The announcement comes on the heels of a recent Office of Legislative Council forecast that projects the state would bring in about $300 million less in revenues than expected when the current fiscal year budget was approved last spring.

“These are uncertain economic times,” Gov. Ritter said. “Colorado is not immune from what’s happening around us. We must be prudent and we must be thoughtful in our planning. We must take steps now to ensure we have options should state revenues begin to dramatically decline.”

The announcement, which came in a press release from the governor's office, said his administration would:

1. Impose an executive branch hiring freeze for the Executive Branch effective Oct. 1. The freeze does not apply to personnel involved in the protection of the "health, life and safety" of Coloradans.

2. Ask colleges and universities and state agencies to delay new construction of state-funded projects through January 31, 2009.

3. Ask the state Department of Education to delay grants to school districts for full-day kindergarten capital construction projects.

4. Order department heads to scrutinize their budgets for additional savings and work with their employees to identify other money-saving ideas and strategies.

“I am taking these steps as a prudent, conservative and responsible contingency plan,” Ritter said. “Colorado's overall economy is doing far better than the national economy. But as the president said last night, the national economy has not faced such dire trouble in generations. At this challenging time, we must take thoughtful steps to protect taxpayer dollars and ensure that we are able to provide essential services.”

GOP legislators had challenged Ritter to impose a hiring freeze earlier this week.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Republicans Want End to State Hiring

Legislative Republicans again leaped on the political opportunity provided by a recent pessimistic economic forecast, calling on Gov. Bill Ritter to suspend all hiring by state agencies.

The comments by members of the capitol's GOP caucuses follows the release earlier this week of an economic forecast by the Office of Legislative Council, which shows that the state will have about $300 million less in revenue this fiscal year than had been anticipated when the annual budget was adopted by the General Assembly last spring.

"Republicans voted against the budget because it was flat-out irresponsible to hire new government employees during tenuous economic times," said Sen. Josh Penry, R-Fruita. "Every dollar the governor spends growing government payroll is a dollar that will be cut from higher education, transportation or health care programs."

Other Republicans pointed out the precedent set by former Gov. Bill Owens.

"We've been down this road before, and Gov. Owens took bold steps during the interim to put the brakes on government spending," Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, said.

About 2,500 people have been added to the state payroll since Ritter became governor, according to a GOP news release.

Spokespersons for the Senate and House Democratic caucuses or for the governor were not available to comment on the GOP request for a hiring freeze.

Ritter Again Pleads for Halt to Commercial Oil Shale Authorizations

Gov. Bill Ritter objected today to the White House’s latest efforts to advance commercial oil-shale development in Colorado, arguing that recent regulatory changes by the U.S. Department of Interior are "premature and irresponsible."

President George W. Bush has blocked the continuation of a funding restriction on the issuance of commercial oil shale leasing regulations. The funding restriction expires Sept. 30.

“I urge you and your administration to partner with states like Colorado," Ritter wrote to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. "Work with us, not against us, and together we can meet this nation’s energy needs and craft a responsible energy future for America.”

The text of the letter can be found here.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ritter Calls for Caution on Oil Shale Program

Gov. Bill Ritter asked the Bush Administration to slow down its commercial oil shale leasing program today, criticizing the federal government's ongoing efforts as being insufficiently protective of Colorado's environment.

In a letter to the director of the Bureau of Land Management, Ritter argued that issuance of permits that would allow companies to begin extraction activities is premature.

"I am concerned that the Department of the Interior is proceeding in this Administration’s waning days with premature regulations that would establish a commercial leasing program for oil shale, despite the fact that neither the Department nor the industry has a clear understanding of which oil shale technologies will prove viable and what the associated costs and impacts will be," Ritter wrote. "Until these and other vitally important questions are answered, it is impossible to develop regulations that contain appropriate protections for the environment, appropriate royalty rates to ensure a fair return to the state and federal treasuries, and a financial safety net for communities."

The governor did say that he is not against oil shale development, but made the case that too little is known about how to obtain and use the resource in an economically viable and environmentally sensitive manner.

Northwest Colorado is home to extraordinary oil shale resources, among the richest in the world, yielding 25 gallons of oil or more per ton of rock. The area is estimated to hold nearly 500 billion barrels of proven oil shale reserves, more than double the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia. Successful development of this resource could provide a substantial new source of domestic oil for the United States, which would have positive implications for our national energy policy and national security.

However, I believe strongly that the state and federal government must be thorough and thoughtful in our approach to oil shale, especially in light of the magnitude of such development. If the Department of the Interior were to authorize a commercial oil shale industry in Colorado, the development would constitute the largest industrial development in the State’s history -- with enormous implications for all of Northwest Colorado and for the State itself.

Though remarkable, Colorado’s oil shale resources have remained in the ground since their discovery over a hundred years ago. Past development attempts have failed due to a number of challenges -- technical, economic, and environmental -- that have yet to be overcome, notwithstanding billions of dollars invested by both government and industry.

Ritter asked BLM to refrain from issuing any final regulations until Colorado's concerns are adequately addressed.

Ritter Announces NSF Grants to Universities

Gov. Bill Ritter today joined officials and researchers from the University of Colorado and the Colorado School of Mines to announce $16.5 million in six-year National Science Foundation research grants through NSF’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Center program.

The School of Mines will receive $9.3 million to establish a new Center, which will focus on investigating emerging renewable energy materials and technologies. It will be the first NSF-funded Center dedicated solely to renewable energy.

CU-Boulder will receive $7.2 million to continue and expand work at its existing Liquid Crystals Research Center. This will be the third round of NSF funding for the Center. Founded in 1995, the Center has spun off six different companies, and its research is contributing to a number of different fields, including better liquid crystals for solar panels and the origins of DNA.

“These grants will help us address the enormous energy challenges that face our state, our country and our planet,” Ritter said. “There are only 26 Centers around the country, so for Colorado to receive two multimillion grants is an incredible achievement. It recognizes the cutting-edge science and advanced-technology research being done here."

The director of the National Science Foundation expressed confidence that the money would facilitate research that is important to providing for the country's energy needs.

“I have full confidence that these two Centers will advance our understanding of basic materials science, address the energy challenges that face our nation and the world, and train the next generation of scientists and engineers on how to solve the complex problems of the future,” Dr. Arden Bement said.

The Colorado Higher Education Competitive Research Authority played a key role in providing state matching funds for each grant. This research authority was created by SB 07-182, sponsored by Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, and Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder, to provide the state’s research institutions with matching funds so they can compete effectively for major federal grants that require such state support.

Bacon and Pommer joined Ritter at today’s news conference along with CU President Bruce Benson and School of Mines President Bill Scoggins.

Senate GOP Crows Over 3Q Revenue Forecast

Republicans at the statehouse took the opportunity afforded by a somewhat pessimistic third quarter revenue forecast to criticize Democrats' budget policies today, knocking the majority party for launching a "runaway train of spending."

The GOP's main complaint is the loss of more than $200 million that would have gone to highways. A recent report from the Office of Legislative Council indicates that only about $28 million left over from last fiscal year will be available for that purpose this year.

"We tried and tried to get them to not spend every dime that was forecast," said Senate GOP leader Andy McElhany of Colorado Springs. "We saw the gathering storm of recession, but they didn't see a cloud on the horizon."

No spokesperson for the Democratic caucuses in the House or Senate was available to comment on the Republican legislators' accusations.

Guv Orders Flags Lowered to Honor Powers

Gov. Bill Ritter today ordered the lowering of U.S. and Colorado flags to half-staff on all Colorado state government buildings on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2008, to honor former senate president Ray Powers of Colorado Springs.

Powers died Friday. He was 79.

Powers served in the Colorado House of Representatives from 1979 to 1980, and in the Senate from 1981 to 2000. He was senate president his final two years.