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February 18, 2011 10:20 PM UTC

Where Has That Skydiving Hero Gone?

  • by: Colorado Pols

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.


23 thoughts on “Where Has That Skydiving Hero Gone?

  1. who worries more about being popular than being a leader.

    Tell me again: What were the issues he ran on? None? Then you get no issues once he’s elected.

    1. Sort of. I was forced to go to a number of debates and went from “wtf was the right thinking?” to “I’d be happily voting Hick no matter who the other candidate was.” And I was always Hick ambivalent. At best.

      While debates aren’t “issues”, he did clearly state his positions and why they are important. His actions now are out of sync with the good things he said then. So it wasn’t quite nothing to… interesting.

      Totally agree with the worrying about popularity. I remember honoring Gov. Carr in the House one day and (I believe) Madden said that she couldn’t think of any politicians willing to give up their job to do what’s right.

      And this is just a talk about raising taxes, not protecting “traitors” and “spies.”

      Not that I envy his position at all. But that’s why I don’t make the big bucks.

  2. I’m thinking it would be interesting to compare and contrast two governors.

    That Wisconsin guy is being accused of giving tax breaks out like dollar bills at the local pole dance emporium in order to create a budget crisis that would let him do some union bustin’.

    Hick is not the one who made the rule that Colorado MUST have a balanced budget, and he’s not the one who got TABOR enacted. He’s kind of in the same position as Obama, brought in just when the crisis was peaking. But when these two can’t snap their fingers and make things magically right, all of a sudden they’re the bad guys.

    So–DOES it take some kind of budget crisis to effect change? Maybe.

    As stated in the article, what’s needed is a massive change in Colorado’s constitution and  more realistic tax rates. Chances of this happening just because Hick says it’s a good idea? Slim. Chances of it happening once the hard cuts start to hit and people see how it will affect them in their real life? Way better. (Forex, people down here are having hissy fits over Ft. Lyons being closed due to budget cuts. They’re blaming Hick too, instead of the anti-tax zealots they’ve been electing for decades.)

    If we are going to march on someone with our pitchforks and torches, let’s start with Doug Bruce, and then go down the list of bone-headed, selfish, faux-Christian GOP office holders.

  3. bu neither is cutting school funding. Hick could be on television every day damning the balanced budget requirement, and calling for more realistic tax rates. He has a soapbox — let’s see him use it to lead.

      1. I have one.

        Go back to the criminal code we had in 1985 before we doubled mandatory minimum sentences.

        That would save a whole passel of money.

        Corrections spending has grown at 3 times the rate of the state’s population growth.

        I moved here in 1984 and I don’t remember the place as being unsafe.

        I’d rather fund education than prisons.

        More young people in college than prison should be our priority.

    1. Their moral equivalent is ousting dictators from Tunisia to Yemen this winter, and two decades ago it ousted one Soviet style regimes after another in quick succession.

      As long as the pitchforks and torches are part of an uprising and not a lynch mob targeted at powerless, isolated individual or small groups, they often do a great deal of good.

  4. his tenure as Mayor of Denver, it has been in his ability to get people to the table to reach compromises of seemingly irreconcilable differences.  So, I trust his instincts here.  

    As humble as Mayor Hickenlooper may be in his public persona, he is not stupid, and he has made it abundantly clear that he believes in the program that his budget cuts deeply.  He’s preached higher ed on the campaign trail as crucial to economic growth and appointed a higher ed leader as his Lieutenant Governor.  He’s put his own kid in the public schools and campaigned for public education, even expanding the scope of pre-K in Denver, while he’s been Denver’s Mayor.  Given his known preferences, I have to assume that he is acting strategically.

    I think it is fair to assume that he refrained from loading revenue raising measures in his budget proposal, as Democrats would like to do, because he believed that this would poison the well with House Republicans.  He needs to be able to broker a deal between a House Republican budget package and a Senate Democrat budget package that are sure to be irreconcilable, so he can reach a deal that can pass both chambers down the line.  This is easier to do if he can tell House Republicans that narrowing tax breaks aren’t his idea but something that has to be a part of the deal to make Senate Democrats agreeable to a deal.

    It is also fair to assume, as Mike Littwin did today in his column in a certain newspaper, that there is method in the madness of making budget cuts that very obviously hurt large numbers of people.  Presenting the choice between less spending and more taxes starkly, rather than trying to find the most painless and invisible way to balance the budget as Governor Ritter did, may very well be a gambit to generate support for a better solution that one he can implement by himself with support only from Democrats and a handful of moderate state house Republicans.

    As subordinates and wives everywhere know, it is easier to get people who are full of themselves, like many bosses, husbands and politicians, to buy into an idea, if you can convince them that it was actually their idea.  Hickenlooper’s “coloring the conversation” comment reflects that kind of strategy.  If he can present the problem in the right way, he doesn’t need to spell out the solution.  

    The solution is fairly obvious – Colorado needs more revenue if it is to provide more decent state services.  But, until the need for more revenue becomes obvious to everybody who is serious in the political conversation, instead of just to Democrats, he can’t win over the bipartisan support who needs to make proposals to raise more revenue fly.  When the case as clear, as it was with the Dr. Evil amendments in the 2010 election, and as was the case with Referendum C, Colorado Democrats and Republicans are quite capable of forming broad bipartisan coalitions to protect state government revenues for necessary spending. (Even if I have doubts about whether the same kind of bipartisan coalitions are possible at the national level.)

    Ultimately, it really doesn’t matter nearly as much what precise kind of constitutional measure is adopted to raise revenues as it does that it has broad bipartisan support.  The Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute is using the initiative process to put a decidely New Deal liberal approach to solving the revenue shortage on the table.  The more Hickenlooper can do to convince the public that there really is inadequate state revenue, the more pressure there will be on Republicans to acknowledge that and come up with alternatives that they can live with and support at the ballot box.

    1. Your observations about the solutions are right on, including the need for the right set of ballot initiatives.  And, yes, this may be all a sneaky, strategic ploy to get a budget that doesn’t feel like a sucker punch.  But, what if he’s serious?

      Mayor Hickenlooper raised taxes more than once.  He did it by explaining the wheres and whys behind the request and voters never turned him down.  Governor Hickenlooper isn’t doing that.  I may not be a strategist, but I’d rather hear him dose up all of the bad medicine – tax hikes and budget cuts – at once.  And, maybe offer a 2-3 year plan that includes the ballot initiatives, budget cuts and tax hikes.

      Hickenlooper thinks there’s not much appetite for tax hikes and ballot initatives.  I think he’d be surprised.  And, he’ll be surprised if there’s a Madison-style march on the capitol.  If he’s just kidding around and this budget isn’t what he’s really after, I think voters will react.  People don’t like being played.  Worst of all, what if he’s serious – there is no long-term plan and this is his solution?

  5. Wouldn’t it be the Governor’s job to “color the conversation” when it comes to solving the states most severe structural problems? John, I love you, but it’s time to step up and lead.

  6. It’s good to be rich in Colorado.  You have the GOP and conservative columnists like Mike Rosen looking out for your interests.  And now you can count Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper as your new BFF.  Hickenlooper’s budget proposal is nothing less than an attack on the middle and lower classes while letting the rich off scot-free.  The draconian cuts to education will mean middle class kids will face over-crowded classrooms.  The rich send their kids to private schools.  Middle class teachers will be furloughed and fired.  That will ripple through the Colorado economy affecting more middle class workers.  

    Meanwhile, the rich continue to take advantage of Colorado tax breaks.  For example, when they sell their second home in Aspen at a tidy profit, they can avoid paying Colorado taxes on up to $100,000 of the gain.  Also, they can subtract from Colorado taxable income the contributions made for their children’s tuition and up to $48,000 of pension income, regardless of their total income.  Finally, after taking these subtractions the wealthy pay the same tax rate as everyone else.  Governor Hickenlooper’s budget does nothing to spread the pain to include the wealthy.  

    As I said, it’s good to be rich in Colorado.  Really, really good.

  7. The complications of our constitution aren’t Hick’s fault. Our $1.1 billion deficit isn’t his fault, either. As for his budget, there really wasn’t any other place to cut.

    But if I were Hick, I would ask myself this question:

    Whose side of a possible ballot initiative will I be on: Jon Caldera’s or Rollie Heath’s?  

  8. What there’s no appetite for, at least among the vast majority of Colorado parents with kids in our state’s public schools, is a decimation of those schools.

    We thought the constitutional amendment on that issue solved the problem. The legislative council’s dodge, which has not yet (apparently) been challenged, has given the politicians at the Capitol a way to dodge the problem created by Gallagher and TABOR.

    I don’t have a problem with Gallagher, really, as I think there’s a strong equity argument for keeping property taxes down. I do have a problem with the revenue caps in TABOR, though not the voter approval provisions.

    We have to get rid of those revenue caps permanently, and Hickenlooper needs to lead on the issue of going back to the voters with a proposal to increase revenues.

    I say start with extraction taxes on oil and gas. I know that went down a few years ago, but I think if it was tied to school funding it would not be defeated.

    You are right, though, about Hickenlooper needing to decide what he wants his term to be remembered for. Will he preside over the destruction not only of the state’s K-12 system, but also what’s left of our higher education system, or will he make the case to the public that our budget problems can’t be solved without more revenue?

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