Governor Hints at TABOR Changes, Promotes Public Health in State of the State

Gov. John Hickenlooper warned legislators in his state of the state speech that history would judge them harshly if they did nothing about the “fiscal thicket” of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and other conflicting parts of the constitution.

Hickenlooper likes to have public opinion on his side before acting, and he did not propose a specific solution during his address on January 15. Instead, he called for a spirit of cooperation and a willingness to take a hard look at the budget and “do real math.”

“If we do nothing, if we pretend the future will take care of itself, and we're back here in two years facing what was clearly an avoidable crisis, history will show that we failed future generations of Coloradans,” Hickenlooper said.

TABOR limits government revenue growth by a formula based on population plus inflation, and it requires voter approval for all tax increases.

The governor is asking for large budget increases for colleges and K-12 schools, but he warned the state might have to make education cuts in a few years because of the constitutional constraints on its spending.

He pushed back at the idea that the legislature should cut spending drastically.
“While we will continue to strategically prune, our state budget can only endure so much cutting,” he said.

Public Health

On the subject of health, Hickenlooper’s offered words that should cheer many public health advocates, saying a healthy environment and access to recreation are essential to improving people’s health.

“Part of educating our kids also means getting them outside for their physical and emotional health,” he said.

He announced a Bike Health initiative to catalog bike trails and link existing trails to each other. He also wants to build a statewide recreational trail network, including a hiking trail from Rocky Flats to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Colorado is making progress toward Hickenlooper’s goal of becoming the healthiest state in the country, he said, noting that the rate of prescription drug abuse is dropping.

Last year, Colorado launched a statewide mental health crisis system, with a hotline and treatment centers. But mentally troubled adults and children need more attention, he said.

“We welcome a discussion in this chamber to sustain our momentum on preventive mental health treatment. We need to give schools the resources to identify and support kids at risk for serious mental health issues, before they lead to suicide or violence,” he said.

Health Care Costs

He also praised recent efforts to control Medicaid costs.
“We are resetting the Medicaid cost curve in this state through efforts like our Accountable Care Collaborative. Medicaid cost per capita is flat, and trending down,” he said.

Hickenlooper pointed out that Colorado ranks among the five best states for reducing the number of its uninsured, according to a Gallup poll last year. However, he conspicuously did not mention the state’s health insurance marketplace, Connect for Health Colorado. More than 151,000 people had signed up for insurance through Connect for Health Colorado as of December 31, 2014, including 35,981 in Medicaid and 113,864 in private policies. But the website continues to be problematic for some users, and legislators are moving to audit the organization.

Marijuana

And finally, it wouldn’t be a Colorado State of the State address without reference to marijuana.

Hickenlooper, who had opposed the legalization of recreational marijuana, repeated supportive statements about legalization that he first offered on “60 Minutes” on January 12.

“At this time last year, we faced the question of whether it was possible to have a legitimate recreational marijuana industry,” he said. “To date, evidence shows that our regulatory system is beginning to work.”

Over the next four months, CHI will closely monitor the workings of the legislature. We will analyze bills, look at which ones pass and why, and discuss the implications of the decisions made by our 100 state legislators and Hickenlooper. CHI also will continue to serve as a resource and educator for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as we work to provide the most current and objective information.

We look forward to covering the 2015 session and hope you’ll check this blog weekly for our thoughts on legislative happenings. You can also follow us on Twitter for ongoing commentary: @CHI_AllieM (Allie) and @CHI_JoeHanel (Joe).

Joe is Manager of Public Policy Outreach at CHI.