Aurora Dems laud Hickenlooper’s final State of the State speech; Gov wants voters to decide roads tax hike


    DENVER | In his final State of the State speech, Gov. John Hickenlooper stuck mostly to what may be his legacy: business and the state’s growing economy.

    Among reminiscing about the last seven years and what Colorado has accomplished since the Great Recession, Hickenlooper said good roads will bring good jobs and technical education will be crucial to the state’s future. He said that, by nearly every measure, Colorado is perhaps stronger than at any point in its history, but he warned lawmakers there’s a lot to do in 2018. He punted to lawmakers the task of asking voters for more money for transportation, a notion Republicans narrowly stopped last time.

    Getting creative about how to better the economy through education was an issue well-received by members of the Aurora delegation. Hickenlooper spoke in-depth on the subject.

    “Why not give those schools with a foreign language requirement the choice to offer coding as an alternative language? But let’s not fall into the trap of instituting a bunch of coding classes and thinking we’ve solved the problem,” Hickenlooper said. “We need flexible solutions that can adapt to what employers need tomorrow, not just what they need today. This means training and apprenticeships. Working closely with business and education leaders, in a public-private partnership, Colorado is igniting an apprenticeship renaissance with Careerwise.”

    Rep. Dominique Jackson told the Aurora Sentinel she was thrilled with that point.

    “The economy and technology are changing,” she said. “And we have to change with it to create the absolute best opportunities.”

    It’s unclear if that emphasis on apprenticeships and technical education will be more closely addressed in higher education — places like Community College of Aurora or Pitkins Technical College — or in local school districts.

    Aurora Rep. Jovan Melton said perhaps a little bit of both.

    Shifting toward more technical education could be particularly helpful for Melton’s mostly residential district, he said. His constituents work all over Aurora, Denver and the Denver Tech Center. And with several industries, such as manufacturing and retail, where technology is taking over, the need for more engineers, technicians and analysts will be an important evolution, Melton added.

    But there’s a big question mark hanging over the topic of education funding in the state. After Hickenlooper’s speech, House Speaker Crisanta Duran told a group of reporters that “all options need to be on the table” when asked if going to the voters was a possibility.

    Expectedly, Hickenlooper highlighted transportation funding. He said the voter’s need to have a voice in the matter.

    “Not only do we under-fund maintenance by more than $200 million per year, but we also have a project list of $9 billion. Total needs are estimated to be $25 billion by 2040. And that’s all on top of CDOT’s existing budget,” he said. “Coloradans deserve the opportunity to vote on whether we need new resources and where they should come from. It’s time to go to the voters.”

    Democrats have long sought to ask voters to raise taxes to pay for a backlog in road repairs — not to mention billions of dollars more in anticipated highway needs. Republicans insist issuing bonds, not raising taxes, is the way to go.

    The governor noted that Colorado hasn’t raised its 22 cents-a-gallon gasoline tax in about 25 years. The tax helps fund roads.

    He says the state has been driving “on a flat tire for about a quarter of a century.”

    Hickenlooper highlighted other priorities, which included shoring up the public employees’ pension fund, legislation to safely cap so-called orphan oil and gas wells that can pose a danger of explosion, attacking the opioid epidemic and rural development. He also said he wants action to fix a constitutional measure, known as the Gallagher Amendment, that restricts personal property tax collections and harms rural communities’ ability to pay for essential services.

    The term-limited governor, whose second term ends next year, ended his last state of the state speech with a personal catchphrase, “Giddy Up”, to sustained applause from both sides of the aisle.