Colorado’s governor says taxpayers need to change the state constitution to provide money for schools. Hundreds of teachers crowded into the the state Capitol Thursday to protest a lack of education funding.
The constitutional amendment known as TABOR, or the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, requires voter approval of tax increases and limits growth of government spending. Gov. John Hickenlooper said it’s largely the reason the state has fallen about $6 billion behind in education funding since the last recession.
“I'm a believer that we have to pay more to teachers," Hickenlooper said. "Ultimately, our kids are going to be the future of our economy, so we're fools or just blind if we don't recognize that and begin finding ways we can increase that compensation. If that means we've got to modify the ceiling on TABOR, then we probably need to do that.”
Teachers gathered at the Capitol Thursday to protest what they said are low salaries, aging schools that lack adequate supplies, and possible changes to their pension plan, which has a $32 billion in unfunded liabilities. Demonstrations across the state Friday are predicted to be even bigger than Thursday's.
Hickenlooper said lifting the TABOR cap wouldn’t mean a tax increase: “I think what [supporters] are talking about in this case, and there are a lot of different voices, is just removing part of that TABOR cap to allow education to get more money. So that’s not necessarily trying to raise taxes."
Hickenlooper also spoke to Colorado Matters about the state's black market for marijuana. He admitted he may have been too optimistic in a prediction earlier this year that the market will drop to almost nothing in the next two or three years.
“Certainly when I said that, and that was some time ago … I was unaware of as many issues with the interdiction of marijuana as it was leaving the state and we’ve had several large busts on that basis. It might well be that given the information I had then that made sense to say then and we see more information like that we might have a steeper hill to climb. It might be a longer effort.”
The state’s public safety director, Stan Hilkey, told Colorado Matters that marijuana grown legally in Colorado is sometimes sold on East Coast states where it's still illegal. “There is more and more evidence that there are more and more people coming into Colorado and sort of hiding in plain sight to be able to grow marijuana illegally inside of homes,” he said.
Hickenlooper said if it's needed the state can use marijuana tax money to increase enforcement.
On whether teachers should walk out:
"I hate to see kids missing a day at school. ... That being said, teachers in Colorado are not paid sufficiently for the job that they are doing. We're one of the most, right now, the strongest economy in America, one of the most affluent states and we should be able to pay teachers enough to live on and enough to be able to find housing."
On a bill to prohibit teacher strikes:
“We have a whole set of set of rules and regulations that govern when you can strike and when you can’t … so any new law that adds more restrictions on that -- I’d be surprised if it got through the general assembly.”
On reform of the state pension fund, PERA:
The state budget could be used to keep PERA on sound footing for the immediate future. “If we were able to strike the right bargain some of that money should go to education," Hickenlooper said. But that would likely require a trade-off, with cuts in cost-of-living increases for retirees.
On his “optimism” about fixes before the legislature ends:
“I have great optimism and hope that we’ll get -- maybe not PERA perfectly fixed but make real improvements. And the same way with education.”
On the need for compromise:
"My mother raised four kids by herself. She would pretend to be cranky when she really wasn't. We'd complain about what was on our plate because maybe it was creamed beef again, I mean she had a million ways of cooking things that didn't cost very much money. We'd complain and she would say, 'It ain't what you want, it's what you're going to get.' Then she'd kind of shake her fist at us."
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Ryan Warner: This is CPR News. I'm Ryan Warner. Fourth grade teacher Kathy Rio walked into the State
Kathy Rio: So it would be great if you could maybe pay teachers more. You probably got this job because
RW: Rio is one of hundreds of educators who today and tomorrow are demanding the state close a gaping
Gov. John Hickenlooper: My pleasure, as always.
RW: Do you support these walkouts?
JH: Well, I hate to see kids missing a day at school. You see the challenges that education faces at every
RW: When teachers come through the capitol, or protesters, I guess, in general, how often do you go out
JH: Generally, not. I think this is a large enough protest we're trying to find out how do we get some time
RW: This year, law makers have agreed to about a $150 million pay-down of an IOU, essentially, in terms
JH: Well, the trick, obviously, is TABOR. It's easy for us to sit around and say, "Well, our teachers should be
RW: You're hearing that from some of the Democratic candidates for governor right now. Is it time for
JH: Well TABOR's, you know, in many parts of Colorado, still very popular. It's always been a battle-cry for
RW: How soon do you think that should happen? There's the potential, I'll say, for an education-specific
JH: Yes, I think there're a number of potential measures that people are looking at and the ideal would be
RW: That is from the legislature.
JH: That won't happen, but they can still go out and gather petitions and put something on-
RW: Would they have your support if they did that?
JH: Well, it depends on exactly what it says. Again, I'm a believer that we have to pay more to teachers.
RW: Of course, there are some who will say that money in the hands of taxpayers is better than in the
JH: Well, but then the question is, is it better in the hands of teachers or better in the hands of taxpayers? If
RW: Isn't Colorado recent history littered with the remains of statewide tax increases that they tried to
JH: Well, I think what they're talking about in this case, and there are a lot of different voices, is just
RW: Yeah, this IOU.
JH: Once that's paid down to zero, then the TABOR cap can be there, but it's in our Constitution, right?
RW: I want to know that this is a walkout and not a strike. Teachers are taking personal leave to
JH: I avoid hypotheticals as you well know, Ryan, but-
RW: Yeah, the fundamental question being-
JH: The bottom line is, if we're doing this properly, we shouldn't get to the point where there's a strike. Our
RW: That's an artful answer to the question of whether teachers should be allowed to strike.
JH: Well, we have a whole set of rules and regulations and laws that govern when you can strike and when
JH: So any new law that adds more restrictions on that I think will be, I'd be surprised if it got through the
RW: What should educators be willing to sacrifice, given that the state has competing needs,
JH: I mean I don't think they should have to sacrifice making a decent living. I don't think schools should
RW: Might the sacrifices come in another debate happening here at the capitol over PERA, the state
JH: Well, there is a challenge there that if you're trying to bring PERA back up into compliance,
RW: It has $32 billion in unfunded liabilities.
JH: Right. So there's several different levers there. We can put more state money in. Now, that's money
RW: So here at the Capitol you've got lawmakers working on shoring up PERA. You've got them debating
JH: Sounds like the plot for a great mystery. Who knows what'll happen in these next couple of weeks?
RW: If the legislature can't solve all of these in the next couple of weeks, is there one that is most
JH: Well they're so interconnected. It's hard to imagine solving one without addressing the others. So I
RW: Would you call lawmakers back for a special session to address any of these?
JH: I don't see anything right now that's at that level. I mean I never say never. But when we were kids, my
RW: I don't think of you as a fist shaker. You know as someone who sort of uses the bully pulpit with the
JH: No, that was not the way that ...
RW: That's not how that I should interpret that, okay, all right. You're listening to Colorado Matters, I'm
JH: Well because we now have a better system of identifying where that black market is coming from.
RW: This is under the medical law.
JH: Right. That was just an invitation to black markets. You put all those together and I think we have
RW: The problem is we've heard from the Director of Public Safety, is mostly with people growing
Stan Hilkey: What they have been telling us, and what we've seen, is that there is more and more evidence
RW: Now, Hilkey acknowledged progress in enforcement, including the new money that you mentioned.
JH: That's hard to predict. Law enforcement personnel generally see the dire circumstances coming at
RW: Although I suppose they'd say they've got the real view of things.
JH: Right, exactly. I think they probably would. They are the ones who are spending more time thinking
RW: Isn't the rub here though, that it's hard to have a real grasp on the numbers? The state doesn't seem
Randy Ladd: My partners in law enforcement are telling me that no, they're not required to keep a statistic.
RW: His point is basically the public should know what's being done, just like they're able to know the
Randy Ladd: Well, why is no one looking at the other side of the spreadsheet? What is being spent on that?
RW: What do you think about this idea of better tracking those aspects of legalization?
JH: Well, it's not even legalization. I mean, that's an issue, the connection of drugs to crime, or just the
RW: I think that's what people may be craving to know, or to have better tracking.
JH: No, I think that's true. And Colorado is a local control state, so most of our police work is done by
RW: What data are you hungry for around marijuana? What answers do you not have, particularly around
JH: Well, I'd love to see exactly where there are people getting arrested in other states, and we actually
RW: I guess without a lot of the data you're talking about, we've been talking about around the black
JH: Well, certainly, when I said that and that was some time ago, we did not have as many, or at least I
We were famous. People would take it out to Tulsa and Oklahoma. People would take it down to Texas.
RW: Governor, thanks for being with us.
JH: Always a pleasure.