48 vetoes later, Owens plays down partisanship
VAIL With controversy swirling around his recent spate of vetoes, Gov. Bill Owens Monday chalked most of them up to differences in philosophy.Owens stopped in the Vail Valley Monday on a swing through the state. After a visit to Minturn to see the results of the restoration project on the Eagle River, Owens met with members of the local media.Owens spoke of the 48 bills he has vetoed from the Democrat-controlled Legislature, his support of the two ballot questions Referendums C and D aimed at helping the states finances, and some of the other bills that have crossed his desk this legislative session.The following interview was conducted at the Vail Cascade Resort. Owens: It looks like were going to have pretty good summer. Its amazing the impact it has on Colorados psyche. When I think back to the summer of 2002, everybody was just so bummed, because the weather was so bad, hot, smoky. It just cast a pall over the state. This year it seems as if were going to have Mother Nature cooperate. Its good for wildlife, nature, good for tourism. Were also seeing pretty strong economic activity. Colorado is eighth in the country in terms of job growth. We still have some challenges in terms of our budget. Its going to be a tough challenge to make the case for Referendum C and D because the innate default position for most of us is you vote no. Doubt is easy to raise with budgets because its complicated, not something that lends itself to easy slogans.A couple of facts: We had two straight years in a row where we cut government 15.8 percent per person. All of it was by necessity; governments dont cut just for fun. Even Republican legislatures dont cut just for fun. The reason for that was in the two years previous to that we had a 17 percent drop in revenue. So now, as were starting to recover with our natural economic cycle, we cant keep the revenue even to get back to where we were. So TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) does need an adjustment so we can recover back to where we started before the recession. We need to fix the ratchet.In virtually other state where theyre looking at TABOR, they do fix the ratchet. They simply say in our TABOR amendment, were not going to have Colorados problem. In Kansas, in Pennsylvania, they fix the ratchet. Were trying to do it here by a vote of the people.We have some significant needs, so as a fiscal conservative who supports TABOR, Im strongly in favor of Referendum C.Q: Why did you veto the bill for the affordable housing trust fund?Owens: Because it required you to have a visitability-standard house a new standard that requires houses to be visitable by those in wheelchairs. It adds expense, and I didnt think that kind of requirement on top of that made sense. I have friends, relatives in wheelchairs and want to see housing improved for them but its a significant tax placed on everyone in terms of affordable housing. Id like to revisit it because Im strongly in favor of affordable housing.Q: Where are we with the roadless rule?Owens: Im going to sign that bill Wednesday in Grand Junction (to establish a series of state meetings and public hearings to get recommendations). In the closing days of the Clinton administration, he signed legislation to set aside land to be roadless.The Bush Administration has said it wants to hear from the governors and the people. So in Colorado, were going to open it up to a broad coalition to look at these areas placed off-limits by the Clinton roadless plan. The meetings will take place with public hearings around the state, they will present their recommendations to me and Ill present my recommendations to the administration. We really wanted it to be a very formal process by which recommendations were given. I have the final say in terms of what I recommend, but then its up to the federal government.Setting aside the politics, I really cant imagine what the objection is to hearing from the people most involved. Thats why I opposed what President Clinton did. He made decision without talking to the people involved. Q: What about the homeowners association bill?Owens: I signed that (Monday.) What it does is reform practices for homeowners groups. One of the provisions is xeriscaping (landscaping that uses less water) it allows them to say they allow it or not. To be fair I didnt like the original draft of the bill. Homeowners associations are nothing more than a group of neighbors saying were going to agree we dont like purple houses in our neighborhood. And why should the state of Colorado say no you cant do that? You should you have the right as free Americans.But sometimes theyve gotten carried away, so what this bill does is democratize the process and make it more transparent. Q: Why would the state get involved in something so incredibly local?Owens: The reason is there were some abuses, some HOAs got carried away. But I support HOAs that are properly run. Q: Were you expecting to veto so many bills with the Democrats in control this year? (The total is now 48.)Owens: (Democrat Governor) Roy Romer in 1997 vetoed 27 bills, after 11 years of Republican legislatures. So even after all those years, he found occasion to veto. This is the first year the Democrats have been in the majority in 40 years, so obviously there was pent-up demand in the Democratic party for stuff. This was their year. So (vetoes) shouldnt be unexpected, and I dont even think the number is particularly high.Many of them were relatively minor. In many cases they were bipartisan bills. I vetoed a bill today that had to do with kids license plates. What it did was buy license plates, and the money goes to good purpose for children. Who could be against that? As we looked at it, we found out the money would go to one organization with a board that picks itself, with no limit on administrative overhead and no dictation as to where money should go from. I vetoed it for good government reasons. It had nothing to do with Democrat-Republican. Others, we looked at the bill and found out it wasnt as tightly written as it should have been.Q: Why did you veto the online education bill?Owens: Im a real strong supporter of online education. This online bill was only written for one provider, a sole source. Are we in favor of a bill targeted to one particular provider? No. Open it up to everybody and it works. Q: One of the bills sponsors said the governor should read the bill, that it wasnt just aimed at one provider.Owens: Look at my veto message and I think youll agree with me. I think hes wrong. Q: How do you feel about the I-70 planning process and the accomplishments so far?Owens: Understand that not everyone will be pleased, thats a given. I dont know what the outcome will be. I have never called a (transportation) commissioner and asked for anything, not once. Once appointed I hope they do whats in the best interest of the state. Ive never called and said make sure monorail isnt the outcome. My job is to raise the funding for transportation. Once we get that, we turn it over to the commission to disburse. At this point the process is moving as its designed to move. Governors dont look at the process so much as the product. Q: If you could, would you six-lane the whole thing?Owens: Not until I saw the environmental impact. I would wait to see what the EIS says and what the local communities say before I prejudged it. And that process is still going on.Q: With the blue-red divide in the country and in Colorado, do you think the number of vetoes youve done could make you look obstructionist? Is there something you can do next legislative session to smooth the road?Owens: I dont think it needs smoothing. We actually work very well together. We got a budget out on time, the school finance act was passed, the TABOR compromise. The big issues of the session were settled on a bipartisan basis. The five or six things that had to happen were accomplished in a businesslike and professional way.So often we tend to confuse politics with policy. Well feel theres a political difference or a partisan breakdown at the capitol, a deadlock. Most of the time that actually incorrectly describes an honest policy difference. Theyre honest differences of opinion generally a philosophical line with the two parties slightly separate on an issue.But Colorado is divided. The Senate has change from Republican to Democrat, Republican to Democrat. But I think Colorado is pretty united on most big issues. We may be 55/45 percent on Referendum C, but there wont be anyone in the street taking up arms afterwards.Q: With 19 months left in office, what would you like to make absolute top priority?Owens: To leave the states fiscal condition on solid footing. The best gift I can give to my successor and future legislators is settle this issue in terms of the ratchet and Referendum C and all the complicating factors that go into the budget. I think we can do that if we pass Referendum C.Theres also protecting what we started: the standards and accountability built into public schools, reforms in higher education, what weve done to create a good business climate, making sure Colorado doesnt become a prohibitively expensive place to do business. Theres some defense with my friends in the Legislature, but were also pushing hard for the budget solution. Another bill Ill probably sign Wednesday in Grand Junction is the discussion revolving around the compact, to get the Western Slope and the Front Range to sit down and come up with some understandings regarding water.Q: What will you do when your term is up?Owens: That remains to be seen. Im attracted to the private sector public service also attracts me. I love what Im doing, and Im going to push all the way through to my final day and then hand the state over to my successor and be proud of what Ive done.
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