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Heath pushes health plans

Reid Williams

FRISCO – Democratic candidate for governor Rollie Heath made a brief visit to Frisco Friday, promoting his newly announced health care plans while on a four-day trip to western Colorado counties.

Heath, a 64-year-old Boulder businessman, announced Wednesday his plan to expand a government-funded health care plan for children of needy families. Heath also has proposed adding a $1 tax to cigarettes in Colorado to fund a $2.5 billion plan to foster insurance coverage among small businesses, cover seniors’ prescription drug costs and extend the eligibility of state health plans for single mothers.

“Ask yourself, are you better off than you were four years ago?” Heath told the Summit Daily News in Friday’s press visit. “That’s the question people should be asking, and I think they’ll agree the answer is no.”

About 4,600 small businesses dropped insurance plans last year, Heath said, citing state commerce figures. That translated into 81,000 uncovered employees, he said. With $1 billion from cigarette taxes, Heath said he would create incentives to help businesses keep coverage or help businesses without health policies acquire them.

Heath also noted that, because the health plan falls under the domain of the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights (TABOR), it would have to be put to a vote of the state’s citizens, “so it doesn’t matter if legislators are influenced by the tobacco lobby.”

Summit County’s transportation challenges are not news to Heath, a supporter of getting the monorail initiative on the ballot in 2000 who’s also suggested the Colorado Department of Transportation change its name to the “Highway Department” to reflect its actual priorities.

Heath said, if elected, he would immediately do three things: dedicate a sizable portion of CDOT’s staff to developing transportation alternatives, such as continuing work on light rail, explore the possibility of a Front Range commuter rail and form a group to research solutions to mountain transportation problems.

Highway-widening is not going to solve Colorado’s congestion problems, Heath said. In fact, Gov. Bill Owens is “putting concrete over kids,” he said.

Heath pointed to cuts Owens made in family and youth service line items in the state’s recently approved 2002-03 budget. The Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee produced a balanced budget that was approved by both the House and Senate, but Owens cut $46 million in line item programs before approving the “long bill” in June. In Summit County, the cuts had serious consequences for youth prevention projects and other services, such as libraries.

“The fallacy is that the cuts had to be made,” Heath said. “It’s totally erroneous. He did that to drop below the TABOR benchmark so that when the excess revenues come in next year, he’ll be able to divert that money to his priority – highways. And he’s doing it at the expense of those who can’t afford it.”

Heath plans to discuss these issues and others, such as his state wildfire plan, the economy and education, as he continues West to Vail, Glenwood Springs, Snowmass, Aspen, Meeker, Montrose and other towns. He is scheduled to debate Owens in Grand Junction on Sept. 7, with other debates following in October. The debates will be televised.

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 237 or rwilliams@summitdaily.com.


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