New guv talks jobs and ‘kitchen table’ budget

Gov. John Hickenlooper gave his first State of the State address Thursday, touching on themes of budget discipline and fiscal restraint, partnership, and priorities for his administration.

It was music to the ears of legislators on both sides of the aisle.

Officials seated in the front row crack smiles at Gov. John Hickenlooper’s first State of the State address. From left, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, Denver Mayor Bill Vidal, Secretary of State Scott Gessler, State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, Attorney General John Suthers, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, and Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Gov. John Hickenlooper greets state Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo. Applauding behind them, from left, are state Rep. Robert Ramirez, R-Westminster, and House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
State Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, visits with former state Sen. Dan Gibbs before the State of the State. Gibbs, who gave up his seat last month after winning election as a Summit County Commissioner, was at the Capitol along with other county officials from around the state.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

The 25-minute speech focused on Hickenlooper’s priorities for the budget, education, health care, water issues and governmental efficiency, but finding jobs and business growth top his agenda.

“Our top priority must be jobs,” Hickenlooper said. Repeating a theme from both his campaign and from Tuesday’s inaugural address, Hickenlooper said the state needs to unleash its entrepreneurial spirit.

That may include regulatory reform, and Hickenlooper suggested adding a “regulatory impact statement,” which would estimate the business cost of regulations, to new legislation, similar to the fiscal notes that estimate a bill’s cost to government.

But how, and who would figure out those costs, is another matter. In a press conference after the speech, Hickenlooper indicated he hadn’t figured out who would come up with that information, but suggested it could come from the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, various chambers of commerce or tourism boards. “As mayor [of Denver] I spent a significant part of my time dealing with unintended consequences of well-intentioned regulation,” he said. “We need a little more thought” on a regulation’s impact.

Hickenlooper asked legislators to consider every bill “through the lens of its impact on our economic growth,” as part of the state’s “fierce and even relentless focus on jobs.” He noted legislators are considering a bill to set up a venture capital fund for small business, and said his administration wants to work with them to help create strong public-private partnerships.

As to the state budget, which he called a “kitchen table” discussion, Hickenlooper did not offer any suggestions on how he would bring it into balance. But he pointed out he brought in a bipartisan team from the previous two administrations to work on it, along with the Joint Budget Committee. Hickenlooper did say he wanted to look at the budget from a “multi-year” perspective, a project already in the hands of his budget team.

“We view our task in three parts: making the hard decisions to balance the annual budget; improving how we spend the money we have; and restoring structural balance to our spending and tax rules.” The government will not fix all of this in one year or “even in this building,” a possible nod to ballot solutions in the future.

While he did not identify possible cuts, he did warn they are coming. Programs and policies that have not been effective will be weaned out, and Hickenlooper noted that he has already found efficiencies by combining certain high-level jobs within his cabinet.

At the same time Hickenlooper was calling for cuts, he was also calling for support for education. There isn’t a “magic prescription” to avoid cuts in K12 or find sustainable funding for higher ed, he said, and the state needs to have a serious conversation about the value of higher education. But as someone who started a business in the midst of the last recession, “this doesn’t have to be the time to limit our investments or our dreams,” he said.

Hickenlooper voiced his support in his speech for the 2009 hospital provider fee legislation, a signal to Republicans who want to repeal it. House Bill 11-1025, sponsored by Rep. Janak Joshi, R-Colorado Springs, and Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, seeks to overturn the 2009 bill.

He finished his remarks with a call for bipartisanship, which drew a standing ovation from the legislators. “A lot of people don’t think the state can operate in a nonpartisan way for the benefit of Colorado,” he said. “We think we can do that.” And he concluded by asking every resident to be a member of his administration, with “a stake in our decision-making and an invitation to share good ideas.”

Freshman legislator Don Coram, R-Montrose, said he loved what the new governor had to say. “If he walks the walk, it’s great.” Coram also said he liked the call for bipartisanship, a conversation Coram said he had with Hickenlooper a few weeks ago.

That theme also resonated with Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, who called the speech “brilliant.” As part of his own history on getting people to work together, Hickenlooper cited his efforts to start up Phantom Canyon Brewing in Colorado Springs, a project saved when contractors became financial partners. “You have to get everyone involved,” Morse told The Colorado Statesman. Morse also said he believed the speech showed there is still an appropriate role for government, rather than those who call for it to be eliminated. “We’re moving back toward letting government do what it ought to,” he said.

Rep. Jim Kerr, R-Littleton, was succinct in his praise for the speech. “A person who knows [about] signing the front of the check will have a major impact on how he deals with business in Colorado,” Kerr said.

The bills Hickenlooper mentioned in his speech got the attention of House Minority Leader Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, who noted that most of them are sponsored by Democrats. As to whether those bills can get through a Republican-controlled House, Pace joked that the House is “32-32 and Tom Massey [Republican from Poncha Springs]. We have plenty of opportunities to work across the aisle,” Pace said, and noted that Democrats had trouble getting bills passed when they had an 11-seat majority. “This [session] will necessitate bipartisan cooperation,” Pace added.

But House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, while praising the speech noted there will be dissent. “Bipartisanship doesn’t mean that you don’t slug it out sometimes behind closed doors trying to get where you need to go. I think he has articulated it well and I support that.” Stephens said she especially appreciated the call for better customer service and regulatory reform. “We’re in a five alarm fire in this state, and I think he gets that,” she said.

JBC Vice Chair Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, said he liked the speech’s focus on economic development. He also said the governor has started off his administration in a positive way with conversations with the JBC, which Hickenlooper noted in his address. “He takes it to heart” that the JBC writes the budget, but the governor still has an important role to play and should be part of the budget conversations, Ferrandino told The Statesman. “I’m glad he’s taking the time to learn, to listen, and to hear from us.”


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