Governor calls for collaboration
Hickenlooper: Legislature must transcend politics, relax budget caps
In an election year marked by partisan extremes, Gov. John Hickenlooper called for collaboration in his State of the State address Thursday, even as he drew clear lines on his top priorities. Hickenlooper, a Democrat, reiterated his push to relax the state’s budget caps under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and gave Republican opponents two options: Exempt the fees paid by hospitals to allow more spending this year, or overhaul TABOR.
“If we can’t make this very reasonable change, like many already allowed under TABOR, then what choice dowe have but to re- examine TABOR?” Hickenlooper said, referencing a move to convert the hospital provider fee program to an enterprise fund. “Right now, no one can say with a straight face that our budget rules are working for us.”
“Coloradans know we’re not fully funding education,” he continued. “They’re fed up with traffic congestion. They’re fed up with potholes. And they’re fed up with our inability to expand our highway system.”
The 42- minute speech offered Hickenlooper an opportunity to define the parameters of the budget fight that will consume the 120- day legislative session that began Wednesday and outline his agenda for the divided legislature.
The solutions, he asserted, must transcend the party politics in the presidential contest. The theme he offered: “Civility leads to collaboration. Compromise leads to progress.”
“Right now, our conflicts aren’t serving us— conflicts in our state constitution, in this building and certainly not in Washington,” he said to the joint session of the General Assembly. “In today’s politics, we revel in getting our way without giving an inch, and stopping the other guy from getting anything done. We’ve made these the only things that count as wins. And the American people lose. This ‘ You’re either with us or against us’ mentality hurts our state and our country, and it undermines our democracy.
“Let’s strive, Imean really try, to be more bipartisan this session. Let’s forgo cheap shots in favor of civility and productive dialogue.”
The tone is classic Hickenlooper, a governor in the second year of his second term who positions himself as a moderate problemsolver — a reputation that is drawing interest at the national level.
But it’s a message wearing thin for Republicans. State Rep. ClariceNavarro, R- Pueblo, said ,“The governor talks a good game. However, I’ve yet to see a strong effort on the part of the governor to work with Republicans in the state legislature, and I don’t believe this year will be any different.”
And Hickenlooper’s focus on a series of flash points in his speech — from the budget to climate change— conflicted with his talk of compromise forRepublicans in the audience.
As the governor finished his speech, Senate President BillCadman, the state’s top GOP lawmaker, quipped from the dais: “Well, we do agree on the Broncos.”
“The first days are pomp, and the next 118 days are circumstance,” Cadman said after the speech. In the governor’s address, he added, “We saw the pomp.”
Hickenlooper’s desire to find new revenue sources to pay for state priorities, such as education, health care and roads, conflicts with the viewof Republican leaders, who assert the state needs to better spend the money it collects, not ask for more.
“We are going to have the largest budget in our history,” Cadman said. “And when ( Democrats) talk about these budget cuts, all they are really talking about is reducing the growth rate of government programs. We are not actually talking about any cuts.”
Hickenlooper also used the address to defend administration priorities under scrutiny from critics, including the decision to expand Medicaid coverage to low- income residents under the federal health care lawand his decision to implement the Clean Power Plan, which the state’s Republican attorney general is challenging.
To tackle the state’s transportation needs, the governor dismissed a Republican plan to issue about $ 3.5 billion in bonds to pay for road improvements. Without newrevenues, Hickenlooper said, “that’s like trying to drive your new truck across the state with a dollar’s worth of gas.”
The remark demonstrated the partisan divide in the chambers, as Democrats stood to applaud andRepublicans mostly remained silent in their seats.
Rep. Joe Salazar, D- Thornton, hopes the governor’s message resonated with the public.
“I’m hoping the constituents out in the rural areas start leaning on their representatives and senators out there and say, ‘ Hey, look, we have to address ... K- 12 education, we have to address our roads. So, please, let’s start to compromise,’” he said.
In the end, all parties put aside the political talk to congratulate Hickenlooper on his engagement to Robin Pringle. The couple plan to marry in a small ceremony Saturday.
As the governor and his fiancée prepared to leave after the address, Cadman stopped him.
“Since we weren’t invited, we thought it would be appropriate to offer you an official send- off fromthe newly renovatedHouse,” Cadman said.
The couple turned to see lawmakers shower them in rice as they walked the aisle.
Gov. John Hickenlooper arrives in the House chambers to give his annual State of the State address at the Capitol. The governor’s speech lasted about 45minutes on Thursday.
Legislators surprise Gov. John Hickenlooper and his fiancée, Robin Pringle, by throwing rice on the couple after the governor’s annual State of the State address. Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post