The AP reports today via the Durango Herald:
Colorado’s state constitution is confusing and easy to change. New Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper says efforts to revise the state constitution are “a huge issue” – but Hickenlooper isn’t ready to say what he thinks should be done.
The governor talked about Colorado’s muddy state constitution in a lunch talk Thursday with newspaper editors and publishers. Hickenlooper was asked about proposals from lawmakers in both parties to address confusing language in the state constitution, or at least change how easily the document itself can be changed.
“I think that those conflicting elements in the constitution are a huge issue. But I’m not sure I want to come out and say, ‘Alright, here’s my plan to solve it.’ Because as soon as I do that, I begin to color the conversation,” Hickenlooper said. [Pols emphasis]
What we’re talking about here, of course, are the interlocking fiscal mandates and revenue restrictions that have made it virtually impossible for the state legislature to deal with the past decade of declining revenues and economic recession. The last attempt to alleviate some of these restrictions, 2005’s Referendum C, was a stopgap measure that nevertheless divided the Republican Party to the present day–and, though enormously helpful, did not achieve all of its goals, due principally to the second recession of the 2000s that hit not long after.
All of this has gained new urgency this week after Gov. John Hickenlooper announced proposed cuts to the budget for the coming fiscal year. The latest cuts come after the state has been wrestling around the margins with small-scale revenue fixes, and mostly painful cuts, for several years: there’s nothing left except the things that everyone will feel pain from cutting now. Due to the aforementioned limitations on the legislature’s ability to raise revenue, that means K-12 education will take an “unsustainable” hit next year of over $500 per student. These latest cuts will relegate Colorado even closer to the bottom of public education funding rankings across America.
As you can read in news reports around the state today, there is a lot of anger being directed at Hickenlooper over these proposed cuts. Some of this anger has its origins, we believe, in a lack of understanding about what the constitutional restrictions on Colorado’s budget actually mean–Hickenlooper had very little else to turn to other than education to make these cuts, and outgoing Gov. Bill Ritter warned that the next fiscal year would bring challenges greater than he had ever faced. Hickenlooper is making devastating cuts to education not because he wants to, but because he really doesn’t have much choice.
But there’s something else driving dismay at Hickenlooper, and here’s where there may be a legitimate issue. As the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute has said in the last few weeks, and key legislators like Sen. Rollie Heath have now taken up the call, there is really only one way out of this dire situation: a ballot initiative, or set of initiatives, that would either sweep away restrictions imposed on the budget process in recent decades, or at least revamp Colorado’s tax structure to allow minimum needs to meet available resources.
Hickenlooper’s answer to this plea has not changed since the campaign trail. “There’s no appetite for it,” he says. But was there really an ‘appetite’ for Referendum C in 2005, that is until Republican Gov. Bill Owens joined then-Denver Mayor Hickenlooper and sold it? The wonderful TV spots that Hickenlooper did in support of Referendum C, like the skydiving spot above–were those not vitally necessary in building support for Referendum C?
More than that, say some we’ve talked to, isn’t Hickenlooper’s ability to persuade and motivate the voters of Colorado to take the steps needed, as they were in 2005…why he is Governor? “Coloring the conversation” is the whole point of the job.