What Hickenlooper wants for Colorado: Infrastructure spending, rural development and charting our own course

Gov. John Hickenlooper delivered his State of the State speech Thursday morning to the Colorado General Assembly.
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Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper gives his annual state of the state address. Jan. 12, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) state of the state; copolitics; politics; governor john hickenlooper; capitol; kevinjbeaty; colorado; denver; denverite;

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper gives his annual state of the state address. Jan. 12, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Gov. John Hickenlooper delivered his State of the State speech Thursday morning to the Colorado General Assembly. There were two football references, one beer reference and one "giddy up," which is pretty restrained for a Denver politician.

In his remarks, Hickenlooper described investment in infrastructure and education as a necessity, not a luxury, and said we need to pay more to fund it. He also called for Colorado to "chart our own course" during a time when Republicans control the presidency and both houses of Congress.

Here are the highlights and new programs he proposed:

Hickenlooper did not mention President-elect Donald Trump by name, but he opened his speech with a reference to the coming change in Washington, D.C. He seemed to appeal to the idea of states' rights, more commonly associated with conservatives, to defend a progressive agenda in Colorado.

"But we’ll soon have a new president, and it is clear that the new administration and Congress seek a different relationship between the federal government and the states. In the early 20th century, Justice Louis Brandeis popularized the idea that states are the laboratories of democracy. And in the coming years, we expect more responsibility to be directed our way.

"But in Colorado, we’ve always been trailblazers, and now, more than ever, we need to move forward, chart our own course and focus on results. Because Colorado deserves our best efforts. And history has its eyes on us."

Transportation funding

Hickenlooper called for a major transportation investment package paid for with new taxes to be sent to the voters, and he hopes Republicans will support it. The state has an estimated $9 billion in unmet transportation needs, and the gas tax hasn't increased since 1992.

"The general fund cannot adequately support the demands of core government services and capacity improvements in transportation. There are some who believe we can pay for our infrastructure needs through cuts alone, but that can only happen if we demand major sacrifices from Coloradans. If that’s what you want, introduce that bill. Make that case. Tell us who loses healthcare or what schools have to close to add a mile of highway."

"... Let’s examine all our options. Whether it’s new revenue, simplifying or replacing old tax streams, or a combination of both. We can find a solution that clearly spells out to Coloradans exactly what they’re getting and how the money will be spent and how that funding can benefit rural and urban communities, support local needs and statewide projects and balance transit options with highway expansions."

Governor John Hickenlooper delivers his State of the State Address. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Broadband office

Hickenlooper described high-speed internet access as critical infrastructure, as important to the state's economic future as a functioning highway system. He pledged to make up for coverage gaps in rural areas and compared the effort to rural electrification in the 1930s.

"Infrastructure is more than laying new roads and expanding transit. It’s running the fiber and deploying new technologies for reliable, affordable internet in every part of the state. Businesses should be able to open their doors wherever they want; especially in smaller communities. Every school, hospital, clinic and home should have high speed internet."

"... Today, I’m announcing the creation of a broadband office to help us get from 70 to 85 percent coverage by the time we leave office and 100 percent by 2020."

Education funding

Hickenlooper said Colorado needs to find a way out of constitutional constraints that make it hard to fund education, but he didn't offer a clear proposal.

"The constitutional budget constraints for school finance are the thorniest part of our fiscal thicket. This July, the Gallagher Amendment will cause property taxes for schools to drop by $170 million. In addition to addressing transportation, Speaker (Crisanta) Duran, (Senate) President (Kevin) Grantham, and minority leaders (Lucia) Guzman and (Patrick) Neville, let's get our best minds together and find a way out of this thicket that respects taxpayers and gives all of our children the education they deserve."

Rural economic development

"We can’t wave a magic wand to diversify the economy throughout the state, but if we work together, we can support growth in any community that wants it. We’re asking to establish a point person on the ground for rural economic development issues to expedite and speed resources to communities that need them."

Governor John Hickenlooper recieves a standing ovation. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Hickenlooper wants new regulations on home grows and to tighten up rules around caregivers to have less marijuana entering the black market.

"Loopholes in our home grow and caregiver laws have helped fuel abuses of our system and a continuing black market. When we ended alcohol prohibition 84 years ago, we worked hard to wipe out organized crime. We should develop common-sense guard rails around our home grow and caregiver laws so that we can end organized crime here as well. We’ve also requested $6 million to provide financial resources to local law enforcement to increase training and detection, shut down illegal grows and prosecute criminals."

He also wants to spend marijuana money on homeless services.

"There’s no question that marijuana and other drugs -- in combination with mental illness or other disabling conditions --are essential contributors to chronic homelessness. Tax revenue from marijuana sales can and should be used to help those who fall through the cracks, including hundreds of homeless vets, helping them find stable, supportive housing. We will also help provide training so they can find and keep jobs."

Health insurance

Hickenlooper touted the success of Colorado's exchange at providing access to insurance -- 94 percent of residents have coverage -- and said costs could be controlled without doing away with the system. His plea to preserve the bones of Colorado's system comes as Republicans are preparing to repeal the Affordable Care Act that requires insurance companies to cover everyone and that people buy insurance. Republicans in the state Senate want to repeal Colorado's exchange.

"We all save money when people stay healthy or get treatment in doctors' offices instead of emergency rooms. Over the last six years, we’ve launched transformative programs to control our Medicaid costs. We’re emphasizing preventive care and giving people the tools to manage their diseases. And with the leadership of Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, we will address underlying drivers of health care costs to make it more affordable.

"That’s a lot of good news, but we all know actions in Washington could threaten the progress we’ve made. I think most of us would agree that the last thing we would want is Congress making all of our decisions around healthcare. If changes are inevitable, I will fight for a replacement plan that protects the people who are covered now and doesn’t take us backward.

"We look forward to working with all of you to pass commonsense proposals to increase transparency, provide more choices, cover more people and lower the cost of health insurance for all Coloradans."

Behavioral health

"From doctors to legislators to patient advocates to sheriffs, nearly everyone is in agreement on how we can improve behavioral health outcomes for Coloradans. Let’s not leave it to be addressed in our jails and emergency rooms and prisons. Let’s use this momentum to bring together the work we’ve already begun to create a comprehensive, statewide behavioral health plan that makes our system easier to navigate, more efficient, and more responsive."

You can read the entire speech here.

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