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Poison pen

Gov. Owens slashes bipartisan legislation, resurrects toll road

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Governor Bill Owens likes to veto, and veto often.
  • Governor Bill Owens likes to veto, and veto often.

Tempers flared across Colorado this week when Gov. Bill Owens defied public will and vetoed two bipartisan bills that would have protected many Eastern Plains residents from having their land seized by a private company to build a toll road.

"He listens to the developers instead of the people," said Marsha Looper, chair of the Eastern Plains Citizens Coalition, one of a network of toll road resistance groups comprised of thousands. "They're livid," she said of her fellow citizens.

As of this Monday, Owens had vetoed 47 bills this year -- the highest number in at least 18 years, according to the state's Office of Legislative Legal Services.

Bills nixed by Owens also include measures on tenant rights, campaign finance reform, the environment and requiring that information about birth control be provided to victims of rape.

"The governor has definitely set a record," said Mark Salley, Owens' deputy press secretary. He added that in the wake of last November's elections, when the Democrats seized control of the state's Senate and House for the first time in four decades, Owens promised to "protect Coloradans with his veto pen."

"He's been good to his word," Salley said.

Broad and sweeping

But many Coloradans feel more betrayed than protected. Eastern Plains residents expressed shock that Owens vetoed House Bill 1342, which had been drafted with cooperation from developer Ray Wells, whose company plans to build a private toll road from Fort Collins to Pueblo. The measure would have limited the road corridor to three miles in width and made the state responsible for monitoring environmental impacts. They expected him to veto Senate Bill 230, which would have taken away private companies' ability to seize land for toll roads.

"These two bills are far too broad and sweeping to effectively address potential problems with eminent domain while preserving the ability of private companies to invest in and build toll roads," Owens wrote in his veto letter.

Numerous activist groups expressed outrage this week at Owens' heavy pen. Referring to vetoed environmental measures on water conservation, energy efficiency standards and the promotion of open space, Susan LeFever, director of the Sierra Club's Rocky Mountain Chapter, said, "They were not radical proposals that made it through the system."

Revenge vowed

Many citizens are vowing political revenge by voting Republicans out of office and defying the governor's referendum on suspending aspects of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights to bail out the state's financial woes.

"We're going to make this very politicized and partisan," said Chuck Shaw, co-chair of the Eastern Plains Citizens Coalition. "I know that the Democrats are ready to seize the opportunity."

Shaw said angered Plains residents would continue to block the toll road.

"The governor has left us no choice but to fight the Front Range Toll Road in the courts," he said

-- Dan Wilcock

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