Hickenlooper calls on Coloradans to 'share vision, priorities for our state'
Gov. John Hickenlooper delivered his second State of the State address to the Colorado General Assembly today, but we didn't get the usual laundry list of programs and initiatives. Instead, we heard an aspirational vision for the kind of state Colorado can be and a call for greater partnership and collaboration among political parties and throughout the state.
That's appropriate. Laundry lists are soon forgotten, and there will be plenty of time for details in the remaining 118 days of the session. For now, it's the call to work together to solve problems, not score points, that we hope legislators take to heart.
As for substance, two passages in the speech were most important for the work we do at the Bell. The first came early:
If you account for inflation, the state's general fund revenue is $1 billion less than it was five years ago when the state had fewer people and was economically stronger. $1 billion. And demand for government services has surged.
The number of children enrolled in public schools has increased significantly and more people are enrolled in Medicaid.
The governor is right. As we pointed out in Colorado's Incredible Shrinking General Fund, part of our "Plain Talk" series addressing state budget and fiscal issues, when adjusted for inflation and population the General Fund's purchasing power per Coloradan dropped almost 25 percent over the last decade – from $1,792 to $1,379 in 2010 dollars. Meanwhile, students in public schools increased 15 percent, vehicles on our roads increased 26 percent, students in state colleges and universities increased 31 percent and Medicaid clients increased 100 percent. Other "Plain Talk" emails discuss the effects on these key public systems. Find them all here.
The Bell has long argued that Colorado's most vexing problems are made much worse by this shrinking General Fund. Simply put, we believe our state government no longer has the resources to be an effective partner in meeting these challenges -- from student proficiency and access to affordable colleges to helping needy families with health care and ensuring our transportation infrastructure keeps pace with a dynamic economy.
In fact, as the non-partisan DU Center for Colorado's Economic Future projected last year in its study on state finances, just 12 years from now we will have only enough money for schools, health care and prisons – nothing else. Clearly, very tough decisions lie ahead.
That's why we were excited by this second passage later in the governor's address:
As Abraham Lincoln said, "With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed."
In the coming weeks you will hear details about a privately funded and non-partisan process of civic engagement called "TBD Colorado."
Really, we tried to come up with a catchy name but TBD truly captures the intended outcome – it's to be determined.
Like the Colorado Blueprint, TBD Colorado will focus on listening and not imposing top-down, government-driven solutions. Coloradans will be invited to share their vision and priorities for our state. In the sense that entrepreneurs try to find solutions to the needs and challenges of society, TBD Colorado will seek to tap that same spirit that exists, in part, in all of us in Colorado.
(Both quotes are from the prepared text posted on the governor's website.)
We have learned from experience that finding solutions to fiscal challenges requires broad, bipartisan cooperation. The governor's TBD process provides the opportunity for a genuine statewide conversation – the kind of conversation that can lead to durable solutions. We cannot predict the outcome, but we certainly hope it will help build public understanding and lead to greater support for a balanced fiscal solution.
Public sentiment is particularly important in Colorado, because we are the only state that requires a vote of the people to make any fiscal decisions that include raising taxes. The Bell has made it a priority to provide data and create tools to build understanding about the state's budget and our fiscal constraints. We welcome the governor's effort to engage all Coloradans in this important conversation. We hope that, through the governor's statewide process to "determine" our state's future, more and more will come to appreciate the true nature of the decisions we face as a state.
There is much work ahead – in this legislative session and beyond. We were pleased today that Gov. Hickenlooper highlighted how lean state government has become and that he is about to launch a process that holds the potential to build a constituency for real change.