I spent Saturday at TBD — a very lame name for a pretty cool idea. Governor Hickenlooper wanted to bring together one thousand civic leaders from all over the state, educate them on the basics of the budget process in Colorado, and give them ample opportunities to talk to each other about how best to move forward, in a completely nonpartisan environment.
The name TBD means “To Be Determined”, which I am told, refers to the fact the completed program still does not have a permanent name. When I was initially invited to join the group, the name was daunting — despite a vague description on a website, I had no idea what I was in for.
TBD took place over two weekend half-days in various regional locations, and culminated in a day-long Summit in Denver. Two other cities in CO joined the Denver group by Skype. The main content of the workshops revolved around five key areas previously chosen by a “framing committee”: transportation, health care, state workforce, education and the state constitution. These key areas became the framework for discussion and debate.
Lt. Governor Joe Garcia attended the full day Summit with us, and Governor Hickenlooper attended the last portion of the Summit, giving closing remarks, and inviting all of us to stay involved on state matters. I overheard the Governor say to someone at one point, “That’s a very interesting idea. Why don’t we go for a beer and talk about is some more?”
During the course, participants were given reading materials, an overview of how the budget process works, and how TABOR, the Gallagher Amendment and the Colorado Constitution interact. Every step of the way, we were given questions to answer about our personal values, which were tabulated electronically in real time using college test-taking hand units. After each participant voted on a question, the results were displayed immediately on a large screen, sometimes prompting further discussion. During the Summit, we transferred those values into the State Budget using the Backseat Budgeter. As you would imagine, balancing Colorado’s budget is much harder than it looks, and almost every attempt resulted in a smack against the infamous “Wall of TABOR”.
I found the whole process to be fascinating. Logistically, the program clearly had some bugs — there were questions that didn’t make sense at first glance and needed to be clarified, and there were times when our small groups did not understand what was being asked of us. Sometimes the pace seemed very rushed; other times a little slow. Because this was the first year for TBD, I’m confident will be worked out for future year’s workshops. The high-tech classroom worked well for the most part, and clearly furthered Hickenlooper’s brand as the geeky but lovable Governor who thinks outside the box.
Because the room was filled with municipal and county leaders rather than elected officials, I found it refreshing to talk honestly to people without partisan politics getting in the way. The participants were from a wide range of geographical areas, political affiliations and demographical groups, and I learned a great deal about why people vote the way they do. I also gained a better understanding of the mechanics that make balancing the state budget so complex (and frustrating).
TBD was presented through a private organization and paid for through contributions to a 501C-3. No state dollars were used to pay for any of it. Summaries of the statewide discussions and votes can be found on the website: http://tbdcolorado.org/
I strongly encourage my fellow activists and blog readers to apply to the program the next time it rolls around. The time commitment is minimal, the educational opportunity is great, there are free meals, you meet interesting people from all over the state, and when the temperature is 103 degrees outside, the air conditioned classroom is a godsend. And maybe the best part of all … the opportunity to see the Governor’s face when the vast majority of the room expresses their serious reservations about fracking.