As Gov. John Hickenlooper delivered his final State of the State address, he received a warm reception from members in both parties. He highlighted some of his successes over his past seven years in office and outlined a broad agenda of what he’d like to see lawmakers accomplish in his last year before he leaves office because of term limits.
In many ways, Hickenlooper, a Democrat, returned to his roots as a brewpub owner and businessman. In his address on Thursday (Jan. 11, 2018), he talked about entrepreneurship, expanding broadband, and creating a strong workforce for the future. He said by almost any measure his administration has helped create one of the best climates for business in America.
“We cut red tape,” he said, “promoted the state not just to tourists, but as a pro business destination for aspiring entrepreneurs; championed innovation and technology; and made it easier for small-businesses to get a loan… We shattered unemployment records, tourism records, and hosted world-class cultural and music events.”
Looking forward, he said the state needs to support education to grow. He asked for more money for schools, increased real-world apprenticeship opportunities for students, and training in computer technology.
“Why not give those schools with a foreign language requirement the choice to offer coding as an alternative language?” said Hickenlooper. “But let’s not fall into the trap of instituting a bunch of coding classes and thinking we’ve solved the problem. We need flexible solutions that can adapt to what employers need tomorrow, not just what they need today.”
But Hickenlooper’s most rousing applause and standing ovation came midway through his speech when he urged lawmakers to respect the dignity of their positions and honor and respect colleagues.
It was our reporting that first revealed accusations of sexual harassment against three legislators, including formal complaints. Republican Sens. Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs and Jack Tate of Centennial, and Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock of Thornton all face complaints.
“Let's pledge here and now that we will not tolerate sexual harassment in Colorado,” Hickenlooper said.
The accused lawmakers deny any allegations of sexual harassment while leaders in their own parties are involved in investigating them and imposing any penalties. Legislative leaders are also in the process of reviewing the Capitol's workplace harassment policy and hiring a new, independent HR person.
Hickenlooper, who leaves office because of term limits later this year, said he wants to get a lot done in the remaining time he has left. Priorities include rural economic development, and finding more funding for roads, schools and water infrastructure, and lowering health care costs.
“I think it was a good speech,” said Republican Sen. Don Coram of Montrose.
“Every year I’ve been here, this is my eighth year here, we always hear good speeches and actions speak louder than words.”
Coram has worked on water issues and said he was glad Hickenlooper brought up the need to fund water projects.
“It’s a great plan but without the finances it’s just a plan,” he said.
Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham called Hickenlooper pro-business. He said he thinks the governor’s ultimate legacy will come down to this final session. There are still major areas of disagreement. Grantham no longer supports Hickenlooper’s call to have voters consider a tax increase for transportation, even though Grantham was the main sponsor of a bill to do that last session.
“We’re in a different atmosphere now,” said Grantham. “We actually do have the money, so why would we go to the voters with a proposition that I think is going to be pretty tough to pass, when we’re showing right now we have the money to do it already?”
Colorado’s most recent economic forecast shows about $300 million in the budget above what was anticipated. Republicans want to use that money a transportation bond, but Democrats don’t. It could prove to be one of the major sticking points of the legislative session.
“There have been a lot of pent up needs over the last several years because we’ve been dealing with budget reductions and looming TABOR refunds,” said Democratic Rep. Millie Hamner of Dillon.
She chairs the bipartisan joint budget committee, which crafts the state budget.
“Clearly this year we’re in a much better budgeting place but sometimes that also presents the challenge of how to best prioritize those dollars,” she said.
Hickenlooper asked lawmakers to consider their love for Colorado and making the state even better – and how cooperation and trust in government go hand in hand. Like in many past speeches, he urged bipartisanship. After nearly 50 minutes he wrapped up, "One last time from this podium: Giddy up!"
Capitol Coverage is a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.