Eye on the Legislature

January 15, 2018

   The legislative opening day speech by Governor John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado) was notable primarily for two ideas:  as a term limited governor, his final state of the State address, and his claim that is “was probably the most positive of any during his two terms in office.”

Telling is what greeted Hickenlooper when he made his first State of the State address seven years ago, acknowledging that although “last year wasn’t always pretty and progress isn’t always painless, it was the most impactful, bipartisan legislative session since the great recession. Hickenlooper reminded Coloradans the economy was in disarray and Colorado “had just ended the worst year for job seekers in generations,” but “by almost any measure, we’ve become one of the best places for business in America.”

The Governor is also probably thanking his lucky stars  he was not selected to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate in the 2016 presidential election considering the outcome and ensuing aftermath. Such a fate would note have been a positive stepping stone to a future national office.

Hickenlooper prefaced his accomplishments by saying “people aren’t eager to make the investments that all prosperity demands, if they don’t trust the people who lead them, and trust that those leaders will work together. The accomplishments of the past legislative session were highlighted by the Governor: 

  • fixed the Hospital Provider Fee;
  • increase some sanity in our budget;
  •  enabled hospitals in rural Colorado that would have closed to serve thousands of patients (an executive of Memorial Regional Health in Craig advised the Governor that he “helped keep our doors open, Thank you.”);
  • reformed construction defects, and slowly building more condos;
  • delivered a modest deposit on our broadband initiative, thus enabling high-schoolers in Julesburg to take remote business classes and to perhaps one day, start his own company;
  • expanded broadband to almost one-hundred thousand rural homes; and
  • first time to use marijuana taxes for a homeless initiative thus helping people save their own lives.

   The Governor explained that he and legislators listened to what communities across the state from the bottom up said they needed and acted accordingly by creating a new blueprint for a new economy, and one that would help rural areas where Colorado’s boom times have passed them by:

  • cut red tape;
  • promoted the state not just to tourists, but as a pro business destination for aspiring entrepreneurs;
  • made it easier for people to create and grow their own businesses;
  • become a bridge between nonprofits and the private sector;
  • leveraged a quart of a billion dollars through public private partnerships for community initiative that have touched millions of lives;
  • created the country’s first and best methane regulations;
  •  created a water plan that secures food production;
  • protect the sage grouse from being listed as an endangered species;
  • developed an electric vehicle infrastructure spanning seven thousand miles;
  • cut or modified almost half of our rules and regulations resulting in saving businesses nearly eight million dollars; and over two million hours last year alone.

   A ten-million Rural Venture Fund was identified by the Governor to “focus equity investment and access to capital in rural parts of the state, similar to what they’ve done along the front rage.

Hickenlooper praised Colorado as one of the most innovative and transparent state governments in America, and stated “Colorado is perhaps stronger now than at any point in history,” with an economy ten times more diverse than when he was laid off in 1986 (reminder, Hickenlooper was a geologist laid off who became an infamous brewmaster before getting into politics as two-term Mayor of Denver).

Hickelooper did provide Coloradans with a list of what needs to be accomplished “in the next 119 days, a list that reads somewhat like a letter to Santa: 

  • finds the right solution to PERA’s unfunded liability:
  • pass legislation to safely cap orphan wells;
  • halt the opioid epidemic that continues to destroy lives and families, and disproportionately affects our rural communities;
  • enact a K-12and Infrastructure Funding Plan that will help make the Water Plan a reality;
  • pass legislation for funds to ensure full broadband buildout in rural areas; and
  • protect our rural communities by addressing the intense, negative impact the Gallagher amendment has had, and will have, in the future. 

   Hickenlooper did address the number of uninsured Coloradans, stating that number had been reduced by nearly one half, many of those from rural parts of Colorado, providing this ominous figure:  “two-thirds of bankruptcies were caused by medical debt, that’s over 100,000 individuals and families, a disproportionate number in rural areas.” The Affordable Care Act helped reduce that number by sixty percent.

This statistic, provided by the Governor, is not acceptable:  In almost every part of Colorado, zip code still determines your educational outcome, and that determines ones economic outcome. Hickenlooper expressed belief that re-convening the Education Leadership Council would build a long-term vision and path forward. The Council is said to be nonpartisan and comprehensive, with a focus on the building blocks of a child’s success from early childhood to workforce and beyond.

Hickenlooper left the “multi-billion dollar hole in Colorado’s roads as the biggest, most insurmountable for last.

The project list according to the Governor is nine billion dollars, with total needs estimated to be twenty-five billion dollars by 2040, which equates to more than a billion per year, “on top of CDOT’s existing budget.”

Senate Bill 18-267, if passed, will fund one-hundred million per year toward that more than a billion-per-year dollar amount. No calculator needed there to say its a little short, with the $148 million proposed from increased revenues adding only a drop to the seeming bottomless bucket of needed funds. 

Hickelooper’s most light-hearted point of the day explained that in ancient Greece, conversation about the great disagreements of the day took place around big dinner and lasted days, often finally slowing down which allowed for a spectrum of viewpoints to emerge, all often fueled by wine. Colorado’s choice of drink:  the Governor stated, “here in Colorado, we’ll stick with beer.”

The reader's comments or questions are always welcome. E-mail me at doris@dorisbeaver.com.