Governor John Hickenlooper gave his last State of the State Address to the members of the Colorado Legislature this morning. In his speech, he took the long view to recognize the history that Colorado has risen from and the common threads that weave its citizens together. He called the most central thread topophilia, which means a love of place. He drew upon characters we can imagine such as the trappers who once lived and hunted on the lands before they were the state of Colorado, to people we can meet such as Rob Graves, a dairy farmer whose Australian style yogurt has reached retail stores across all fifty states. These characters and people he brought up show topophilia in different ways, from working the land, or enjoying the views from the Front Range, or living in mountain communities.
The love of place also informs the reasons the legislators and all public servants dedicate their lives to serving their communities. Governor Hickenlooper recounted the many successes that have been achieved in Colorado during last session and the previous years he spent in office. The victories he mentioned from last session included fixing the Hospital Provider Fee to ensure that rural hospitals remain open, reforming construction defect laws to spur more condo construction, and a program that used retail marijuana tax revenue to help the homeless. His view to the past extended through the Great Recession to the 1980s when the economy lacked diversity. Using this frame of reference, he panned to present day where Colorado is a business friendly environment, especially for entrepreneurs and small business owners. Other successes from the past include the creation of the Colorado Water Plan, expanding broadband access to over 1,000 rural homes, developing a large electric vehicle infrastructure, and improving how government is run through LEAN processes. Drawing on the successes of the past, reminding the legislators where Colorado has come from, he shifted to the problems still facing the state.
Governor Hickenlooper mentioned that reform was needed to the Public Employees’ Retirement Association (PERA), the state’s public employee pension program, but only did so once in his speech. PERA reform is likely to be a big issue at the Capitol this year as the unfunded liability grew when the PERA Board revised their mortality tables and their expected rate of return on investment. The Republicans and the Democrats in the General Assembly disagree on how to fix the unfunded liability and their plans differ from the Governor’s proposed fixes. In the term limited Democrat’s last term, the priorities Hickenlooper stressed to the joint chambers of the General Assembly were to address the opioid crisis spreading across the state; to fund K-12 at a higher rate and to fund an infrastructure plan through the expected revenue increase; to fund a full broadband buildout to all of the rural areas; and to address the negative impact that the Gallagher Amendment has had on funding K-12 education. In addition to the legislative priorities, he asked the members to pledge that sexual harassment would not be tolerated in the state of Colorado.
The rest of his speech took a deeper look at the business world, health care, education, broadband, housing, and transportation. He called legislators to examine expanding the Jump Start incentives to seven years. While the Affordable Care Act has reduced the uninsured rates, some counties in Colorado have the highest premiums in the nation and 14 counties only have one insurer offering insurance on the exchange. Hickenlooper sees education as the engine in the economy. However, the current system is not preparing the people with the skills that the businesses are demanding. The Governor approved of public private partnerships that provide apprenticeships to train individuals. He proposed the idea of allowing coding classes to be accepted as credit for a foreign language. He outlined the rising costs in fees, tuition, and supplies, as the central problem with higher education. Governor Hickenlooper sees rural broadband as an economic development tool because in today’s economy most jobs can be done remotely or simply require a computer. Ensuring broadband access in rural communities is a way to ensure they maintain their way of life. Governor Hickenlooper strongly emphasized to the Legislature the importance of finding funding for the Colorado Water Plan. He warned that if the Water Plan was not implemented there could be threats to the state’s food supply, the state’s agriculture industry, and the environment as a whole. In addressing that the state’s housing prices are increasing, even in communities outside of the Front Range, he posited that the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority is the answer. He said the housing tax credits should be increased by 50%. The transportation funding provided last year will not be enough. The Governor hinted that because transportation has risen to such a priority, people in the state were ready to pay higher taxes for improved roads and bridges. The traditionally conservative communities in Fort Morgan and El Paso county that voted to raise taxes this past November provided some proof the people are ready. Because of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) which limits the amount of money the state government can collect and spend each year, an increase in taxes to pay for transportation would require a ballot initiative. Governor Hickenlooper said on this topic, “Coloradans deserve the opportunity to vote on whether we need new resources and where they should come from.” While he did not outline a specific policy to fund transportation, the Governor pressed legislators to come up with a dedicated funding source for transportation.
The end of his speech included quotes to inspire the legislators as they embark on the 2018 Legislative Session, and thanks to his cabinet, executive team, and all of the legislators for their partnership during his time as Governor.
Governor Hickenlooper’s State of the State Address Full Text: https://www.colorado.gov/governor/news/gov-hickenlooper-delivers-annual-state-state-address-1