Owens defends "burning’ comments | SummitDaily.com

Owens defends "burning’ comments

Jane Reuter

BRECKENRIDGE – Before a largely receptive audience Thursday, Gov. Bill Owens tried to explain away his June 9 statement that “All of Colorado is burning today,” a comment that has angered people in the tourism industry and reportedly created fears for summer business.

“I told the citizens of Glenwood all of Colorado was with them, that in fact, all of Colorado was burning,” said the governor, who spoke at a Colorado Municipal League lunch at Beaver Run Resort In Breckenridge. “It was a way to give empathy to these people.”

Owens also blamed the media for blowing his statements and other fire-related news out of proportion. The governor specifically mentioned headlines in Denver newspapers such as, “We can’t stop it,’ and “Inferno,’ and national television news coverage of the fires.

“I would modestly suggest that coverage might have had an impact at least as great as my five words,” he said.

He was applauded by the hundreds of CML members – most of whom are municipal employees from around the state – in the audience.

But tourism officials say Owens’ attempts at “empathy” triggered a sense of alarm among some visitors. And in response, the Colorado Tourism Office Thursday released a “tourism wildfire action plan” dedicated to letting people know that “Colorado is open for business,” and that more than 99 percent of the state is unaffected by the fires.

While tourism may be impacted by the fires for the short-term, Owens said Thursday, any additional fires, combined with weakened firefighting resources, could scar the land and negatively impact tourism for a far longer period of time.

Owens also said he’s made tourism a priority, designating in each of his three budgets $5 million to $7 million a year for tourism.

During his speech, Owens also talked about the state budget, saying this year’s decisions were particularly difficult.

“The Legislature gave me the budget on the last day of the session, knowing I couldn’t negotiate with them,” he said. “They said, “Take it or leave it.'”

As a result, the governor said he cut $46 million in programs and ordered his departments to trim their budget by an additional 4.1 percent. Locally, it’s cut into District Attorney Mike Goodbee’s juvenile diversion program and taken money away from Summit County’s child care licensing position.

Those impacts take effect July 1, when the new fiscal year begins.

“It’s never fun to veto these items,” Owens said. “But the Legislature knew I had a Constitutional requirement to do so. Even with the cuts I put into effect, we’re still $133 million in deficit.

“This doesn’t mean the state’s going bankrupt. I’m an optimist, and I really believe Colorado – despite the challenges of Sept. 11, despite these fires – is in relatively good shape compared to its neighbors.”

He cited the state’s highly educated work force and its economy, “the third most diversified state economy in the country.”

“We do have a challenge,” he admitted, but said the state can overcome it, “if we are fiscally conservative for one bright, shining moment.”

Jane Reuter can be reached at 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at jreuter@summitdaily.com

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