Tribe reacts to ‘State of the State’ address

On Jan. 9, Southern Ute Vice Chairman James M. Olguin traveled to Denver for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s third “State of the State” address at the state Capitol.

Hickenlooper recognized Olguin and Vice Chairwoman Juanita PlentyHoles of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. He began his address by discussing the trying year Colorado had in 2013.

“When we gathered for our last ‘State of the State’ address, in the wake of the Waldo Canyon Fire and the Aurora massacre, many of us thought we would never again experience a year like 2012,” Hickenlooper said. “That was not the case. Every season of 2013 presented another unthinkable test.”

He addressed the murder of the director of the state Department of Corrections, Tom Clements, and summer wildfires including the Black Forest, Royal Gorge, West Fork and Red Canyon fires. In the fall, he said, there were the floods and the politicians in D.C. “who couldn’t get along well enough to keep the federal government’s doors open.”

He also briefly mentioned 17-year-old Claire Davis, who was fatally shot when another student opened fire at Arapahoe High School this past winter.

“This past year, Colorado has been scorched. Colorado has been flooded. Colorado, once again, endured senseless, inexplicable violence,” Hickenlooper said. “Yet despite all of it, we did not let that define us. That is not our story.”

His statement was met with standing applause. Hickenlooper then discussed how Colorado is growing stronger. Colorado’s unemployment has declined to the lowest level since 2008. The state is in its fourth year of economic growth, he said.

“Colorado is ranked among the five states in the entire country for business, careers and job growth,” Hickenlooper said.

Olguin said the good news is welcome, but the governor failed to recognize the tribes for their part in the recovery.

“I am glad that the growth of the economy and employment is up, but what Governor Hickenlooper failed to mention was that the two Ute tribes in the southwest corner of the state are responsible for considerable contribution to the state’s economic growth as well as the employment,” he said. “The two Ute tribes are the biggest employers in their respective counties.”

The governor also touched on the growth of agriculture and the opportunity for employment that boom has provided, citing the launch of the Rural Economic Development Grant Program, which is in the process of awarding $3 million to rural communities.

“A program like this could help out La Plata County and the tribe, had we received the recognition. We need to find a way to utilize the governor’s office better so that we get the recognition,” Olguin said.

The budget was a big topic of conversation for the past year. According to Hickenlooper, three years ago the budget was facing staggering deficits, while today things are looking up.

“We have made hard choices, been disciplined, not spent more than we have. We’ve put ourselves in the position to save more money for rainy days,” he said. “As we’ve seen when we get rain, it can be ‘biblical’ and all at once.”

Hickenlooper said the most critical factor in Colorado was being able to keep Colorado businesses open through reserves.

“Three years ago, Colorado was setting aside only about 2 percent of its General Fund money for reserves. That 2 percent gave the state only a seven-day cushion,” he said. “Last year we more than doubled that rate, to 5 percent.”

Hickenlooper said his office is requesting to grow the fund this year to 6.5 percent. The money in reserves is what enabled the state to respond quickly to disasters, rebuild roads, and open them ahead of schedule, he said.

Looking forward, the governor cited such issues as jobs, education, and ensuring the state is healthy and fiscally responsible.

“With your help, this year, we will extend the job creation tax credit from five years to seven years, enabling more businesses to maintain employees and hire new ones.”

Hickenlooper mentioned his support for obtaining effective teachers, retaining students and involving parents. Today, the statewide public education funding system only disperses funds to schools based on enrollment, which is counted on a single day, early in the school year. He said he would like the General Assembly to pass legislation that will ensure a more accurate assessment, by counting average daily membership in schools.

A topic that directly involves the Southern Ute Indian Tribe is energy growth in Colorado. Hickenlooper mentioned embracing the energy rise while protecting the environment, something the Southern Ute Tribe has done for years.

Currently, the Southern Ute Tribe is top notch in its air and water quality efforts on the reservation. The efforts are nationally recognized as being among the best in Indian Country.

While not much was mentioned about the legalization of marijuana the governor said the implementation of the voters’ wish to legalize it should mean the state should be obligated to make sure children and parents understand brain development and the risks of underage use.

“We are committed to securing a safe, regulated and responsible environment,” he said.

Hickenlooper is up for re-election in November 2014.

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