It sometimes seems like there isn’t a single situation in government that doesn’t remind Governor Hickenlooper of some experience in his business life. Thursday’s State of the State was no exception. In the speech, Hickenlooper emphasized how his past experience will shape his administration's priorities.
[photo credit: Joe Hanel, Durango Herald]
To introduce his big theme -- cooperation -- Governor Hickenlooper opened his speech with a story of near failure, looking back to a building renovation that he couldn’t find investors to support, until he convinced his own contractors to become his partners.
HICKENLOOPER: "The stakes are a lot bigger right now, but I’m asking all of you to become our partners in transforming Colorado."
The biggest task looming over that partnership is the state’s immending budget shortfall, which could be as high as a billion dollars. But in his speech, Hickenlooper emphasized that his administration is looking further than next fiscal year.
HICKENLOOPER: "We view our task in three parts -- making the hard decisions to balance the annual budget; improving how we spend the money we have; and restoring structural balance to our spending and tax rules."
To that end, Hickenlooper says his staff is looking at the possibility of adopting a two-year budget cycle to allow more long-term planning. They’re also searching for ineffective programs to cut, and finding ways to consolidate offices and positions. Hickenlooper made one of his bigger policy proposals around economic growth - which is a key part of his agenda.
HICKENLOOPER: "In the days ahead, I would like to see if we could look at adding a regulatory impact statement to new legislation. Just as we require a fiscal note for every new bill that estimates the costs to state government, we could also include an estimation of the cost to businesses of additional regulations."
That idea brought out applause from both sides of the aisle. Asked later how this might work, Hickenlooper suggested industry groups might help supply information about potential impacts. Republican representative Cheri Gerou of Jefferson County thinks it could be hard to set up regulatory impact statements, but she still gave Hickenlooper a standing ovation for proposing the idea.
GEROU: "That’s the frustrating thing is that when they pass this legislation and we have our fiscal analysis, the fiscal analysis sometimes doesn’t cover everything. And it’s those unintended consequences of what we do here as legislators that is the scariest part of what we do"
In general, lawmakers from both parties seemed to walk away from the State of the State address happy. Democrats said they liked the governor’s defense of federal health care reform and his description of the education system as an important contributor to economic development. Many Republicans, like El Paso county senator Bill Cadman, were happy to hear the governor’s apparent openness to their party’s ideas.
CADMAN: "Hopefully the reality and the rhetoric will match up. We’re excited to see two trains going the same direction on the same bridge for a change, instead of colliding at an intersection."
Senate majority leader Brandon Shaffer, a Boulder Democrat, says he didn’t mind not hearing more specifics in the governor’s speech. Instead Shaffer says Hickenlooper did a good job of establishing the focus for his administration.
SHAFFER: "You have to have a mantra down here and his mantra clearly was jobs and the economy."
Shaffer described the governor’s speech not as bipartisan, but as non-partisan. It was a tone that carried through to the end, when Hickenlooper brought up what could be one of the session’s nastiest fights: the redrawing of Colorado’s seven Congressional districts.
HICKENLOOPER: "A lot of people don’t think the state can operate in a nonpartisan way for the benefit of Colorado. We don’t agree."
The applause for that line stretched for forty seconds, as nearly the entire chamber -- lawmakers and audience -- rose to their feet.
Partisan cooperation is always a popular idea when the legislative session starts. But with this week of political ritual coming to an end, the new legislature now has to get down to work, trying to put at least some of the ideas from the governor’s speech into practice.