What should we expect from “TBD”?


Governor Hickenlooper has shagged dozens of his “closest friends” to participate in the “TBD Colorado” process, with the lofty goal of creating “public policy recommendations for improving Colorado’s quality of life.”

The TBD groups, and yes, it’s TBD, like “To Be Determined” because no-one is quite sure what the outcomes might be, are tasked with offering opinions on five topics said to be of essence to the state’s economic and emotional survival — transportation, the state budget, education, health care and Colorado’s workforce.

Opinions are plentiful, solutions not so much. That’s what’s frustrating about this process. More about that later.
For now, that’s as far as it goes — we’ll run a lot of flags up the pole, and see if anyone salutes, let alone notices. I say “we” because I volunteered to be a TBD panelist, and attended my first meeting last week.

As civic discussions go, it was civilized and very well-organized. We had those little calculator jobbies to participate in polls to help us identify “Colorado values” and gauge our interest on various topics. The moderator kept things moving. I had interesting people at my table. I learned we have two official state songs (Yes, “Rocky Mountain High” is one of them.)

And I know the structure was supposed to be conducive to “openness” and “understanding.” What was lacking was the positing of big ideas. Few people had any ideas about solving the problems with which we were presented. That’s one frustration.

Here’s a bigger one — doesn’t anyone take civics any longer? Are middle schools and high schools skipping the basics of how government is organized in favor of frou-frou classes like rock n’ roll history and vegan cooking? Separation of powers, what legislators do, how taxes are allocated and budgets set — total mysteries to more than half of our delegates.

Few people even knew what TABOR allows state and local governments to do (or not do — jailbird Doug Bruce’s continuing revenge), and virtually no one knew the difference between an initiative and a referendum. One guy did come with an idea about calling a constitutional convention, then said he’s got another solution as well. Guess we have to wait until May to hear that.

Mention things like tolling I-70 to pay for improvements, or reducing eligibility for Medicaid, and you got either a “no way” reaction or a glazed look. The teachers present want more money for — education (teachers). Three of four retired state employees warned “Don’t touch PERA.”

The retired state legislator at the table next to mine spent most of his time patiently explaining the mechanisms of Colorado government. Maybe his next career ought to be back in a junior high classroom.
Back to big ideas. Of the dozens of kernels of “what if?” voiced by each table, some were worth listening to. It will be interesting to see if those ideas line up with what TBD delegates are saying in the 40 other regions for TBD input around Colorado.

If 20 of the 40 think redefining TABOR is a good idea, what’s going to happen to that idea? Who will carry the ball? The same goes for some of the other gems that are bound to emerge. Maybe one big idea will result. Then who carries it forward? Does the TBD Alumni Group suddenly become a special interest?

When someone prepares the hefty report to John Hickenlooper, is he going to go through the 200 pages and say, “Let’s do this, and let’s propose this?” Maybe we’ll actually get to vote on ideas that can reshape the state, our budget, and our priorities.

Or, sadly, maybe no one will have the courage to say what’s workable or not.

The time spent on TBD might be worthwhile if we actually get to vote on ideas that can reshape the state, our budget, and our priorities. I’ll tell you though, it would be more fun if we could vote on-screen with the little hand-held jobbies.

Pete Webb is a contributing column for The Colorado Statesman. A former broadcast journalist and award-winning investigative reporter, he has owned a PR firm, served as president of the one-time Colorado Film Commission and is immediate past president of the Special District Assn. of Colorado and a long-time director of two fire districts. He remains a commentator on the current political scene and other topical events.

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