State of the State: Hickenlooper calls for bipartisanship fiscal issues, touts recovery

Photo: Hickenlooper, Cadman, Hullinghorst January 2015
Gov. John Hickenlooper, right, laughs with state Republican Senate President Bill Cadman, while Democrat House Speaker Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, smiles at left, as Hickenlooper steps up to deliver his annual State of the State address.

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper turned the focus to bipartisan proposals in his fifth State of the State address.

How bipartisan? One Democratic state representative said the only time his party applauded and Republicans didn't was when the governor talked about fiscal reforms.

Touting economic recovery

Hickenlooper celebrated Colorado's growing economy on Thursday. But that prosperity is what's prompting constitutionally mandated refunds under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, also known as TABOR.

Republicans say refunds should go forward. But Democrats argue the state should use the money to continue restoring cuts to education made during the Great Recession and make investments in transportation.

Democrats control the House and Republicans the Senate, making it unlikely lawmakers will refer a question to voters asking permission to keep the surpluses.

Hickenlooper did tell lawmakers to pass legislation that educates voters about fiscal impacts from constitutional mandates.

DUI law

Hickenlooper also called for tougher penalties for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Colorado is one of only four states that does not have a felony DUI law.

Republicans in the Legislature have tried and failed to get a felony DUI measure to Hickenlooper's desk.

School testing

The governor also said he supports a reduction in student testing. But he says most of the mandatory tests should stay.

He talked about a review under way about how many tests students are required to take. Hickenlooper says he'd support some reduction in mandatory testing, especially for high-school seniors.

But he told lawmakers that most tests should stay. He called high-school testing in English and math "fundamental."

The state Legislature is considering changes to Colorado's testing requirements this session amid complaints from many teachers and parents that the testing is excessive and takes away from learning.

Wider freeways

Hickenlooper says the state needs wider interstate highways but can't wait on the federal government for help.

The Democratic governor says both interstates 25 and 70 need to add capacity,

But he told lawmakers in his annual State of the State address that Colorado needs to "think creatively" about how to pay for widening the highways.

He suggested "funding partnerships," which could mean using private companies to do the work in exchange for tolls. But the governor did not elaborate on what partnerships Colorado should pursue.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.