Governor Hickenlooper’s State of the State address, the medusa like TABOR continues to drag any new Colorado initiatives to a legislative thrashing of poisonous paralysis. Even without TABOR, everyone, including the Governor is worried about traffic congestion, specifically I-25 and I-70:
Add to the equation 2 million more residents projected to join us over the next 20 years, and we’ve got a math problem. Our population grew by over 100,000 last year alone, so we need to invest now to ease congestion and mobility for today and tomorrow.
Perfect timing for a Colorado Hyperloop to alleviate traffic!
Here’s an idea: TABOR will only go away with the support of rural Coloradans. So if the hyperloop is built along I-70, rural areas will improve because the state wide tax base due to more populated front range cities will enable rural parts of Colorado to get more money out of their elected members.
The Colorado Independent has a great summary of the response from the Governor’s charge:
Gov. John Hickenlooper used his annual State of the State speech last Thursday to chide lawmakers for failing to compromise last session on the state’s most pressing issues: the state’s budget, which he believes will have to be cut in 2016-17, changes to a hospital provider fee that could free up $1 billion over five years for transportation and education, and reforms to a state construction defects law that developers say prevents them from building affordable condominiums.
Last year’s partisan gridlock was due largely to split control of the General Assembly. It’s the same for this year – Republicans have a one-vote majority in the state Senate, and Democrats hold a three-vote advantage in the state House.
While democracy “wasn’t designed to be argument-free,” it also “isn’t designed to be combative to its own detriment,” Hickenlooper said. “Our conflicts aren’t serving us,” either at the state Capitol or in Washington, D.C. “We used to take pride in compromise…but in today’s politics we revel in getting our way without giving an inch, and stopping the other guy from getting anything done.”
Coloradans excel at working together after a tragedy, but that shouldn’t be the only reason lawmakers compromise on the state’s biggest challenges, Hickenlooper said.
The budget will be the focus of this year’s session. While the state’s economy is among the strongest in the nation, lawmakers anticipate issuing refunds to taxpayers as part of the 2016-17 budget. Those refunds, according to legislative economists, could range from $25 to $125 for individual taxpayers, depending on income levels.
At the same time, however, the state is nearly $900 million short of meeting constitutional requirements for funding K-12 education, and more than $3 billion is needed for critical roads and infrastructure repairs. In addition, Hickenlooper’s budget proposes increasing the K-12 funding shortfall by another $50 million, erasing the progress made last year in reducing the shortage.
Those dollars won’t come out of nowhere.
Hickenlooper’s solution: changing the state’s hospital provider fee, a per-bed surcharge paid by the state’s public and private hospitals, matched with federal dollars and then re-distributed to hospitals that provide medical care to the indigent. Hickenlooper and Democrats want to see the fee reclassified as an enterprise, akin to a state-run business, a provision allowed under TABOR, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.
Were the provider fee reclassified, it would free up about $1 billion in revenue over the next five years that Democrats say could go to K-12 education and transportation. Hickenlooper pleaded with lawmakers to address the issue.
While Democrats, business groups and the governor believe TABOR allows the change, Republicans, including Senate President Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs and Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, oppose it, calling it a maneuver to get around TABOR.
Hickenlooper spoke about rural Colorado concerns throughout the speech.
He highlighted the state’s Rural Economic Development Initiative program, which last year helped bring 100 jobs to Costilla County. Hickenlooper also discussed the effort to expand broadband services to “every corner and corral” in Colorado, by leveraging federal dollars, state assets and with the help of telecommunications reform laws passed in 2014.
Becker praised Hickenlooper’s frequent references to rural Colorado. “It’s rural Colorado that is suffering,” Becker said, adding that growth that has boosted the Front Range economy hasn’t made its way to the Eastern Plains.