Gov. Hickenlooper expects contradictory tax rule fix to hit ballot in 2016

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Photo: Gov. John Hickenlooper (AP Photo)
Gov. John Hickenlooper at the National Press Club in January.

Gov. John Hickenlooper says he wants to bring state leaders together to find a solution to what he calls "the biggest challenge" facing the state: contradictory provisions in its constitution about how much money the state and local governments can bring in from taxes, and how much money must be spent on K-12 education.

Since his reelection in November, Hickenlooper has warned that if the issue isn't solved, soon the state will no longer be able to provide some services it now provides. And, it already is not able to fund education to the extent required in the state constitution, he said.

But the governor had not explained how he thinks the issue should be solved, nor his role in that solution. In an interview Friday with Colorado Matters, he said he expects that a proposal will go before voters on the 2016 statewide ballot.

The interview also touched on a recent proposal from President Barack Obama to encourage states to require that employers provide paid time off; the effects falling oil prices will have on Colorado's economy; the progress of the state's Oil and Gas Task Force, whose recommendations are due in March 2015; the governor's current views on the death penalty and the legalization of recreational marijuana; and Republican proposals to roll back mandates on renewable energy production.

On the budget problem he wants to solve

"Amendment 23 [having to do with education spending] tells us that we have to spend more money. This year, we will spend $900 million less than what Amendment 23 mandates we should spend. And that’s only going to increase, in the next couple years, based on projections.

"And yet, at the same time, we’re going to likely begin TABOR rebates [a process where the state returns some tax money to residents, as required by the Taxpayer Bill of Rights]. I mean, that’s in conflict."

On how he expects it to be solved, and what his role is

"We are certainly going to be the convener… When you start convenings [sic], when you start talking about it, start letting people know, the leadership of the State House, the leadership of the State Senate, the leadership of the business community, that the time has come to sit down and deal with this, and my guess is there’ll be a 15 month process or 18 month process to really figure out what is the right solution, and then something will end up on the ballot.

"And it’ll probably be a compromise. It’ll probably be some aspects of TABOR, of Gallagher [an amendment to the state constitution, passed in 1982, that has lowered residential property taxes, therefore reducing money to schools], of Amendment 23, I think they’re all in play. I think they all have ways that they negatively impact each other… I think 2016 is the likely place that we’ll try and sort this out, and get our constitution back to being a little more intuitive, so that it functions in a more common sense [way], is what I’m trying to say."

On the Obama administration’s push for states to require employers to offer paid leave

"What they’re proposing is providing some money to really study the issue, and the unanswered questions is [sic]: How much of an additional cost would it be, who would pay that, is it all going to be borne by the employers?

"What we’ve said for the past couple years is, we are very, very supportive of our business community, but especially our small businesses. They’re really the job creators.

"I mean our point, one of our major focuses that we talked about in the State of the State speech is, long-term unemployed. We have almost 50,000 people that’ve been out of work for more than six months. For businesses to hire them, we’ve got to be very careful of how we put additional burdens."

On his concerns about falling oil prices

"Our major employee base for the last couple years has been up in Weld County… What I’m told, most of the horizon there revolves around $60 or $65 oil makes it work… There’s been some serious fluctuations in price. Each business is now making, I guarantee it, they’re trying to make assessments of, “Is the price going to stay down for a long time? Is the price going to wildly go up and down? Is it going to be one or two years, or three or four years?”

"But already, I mean, we will see, in this quarter, a reduction in drilling, rigs are going to be set down… This is the nature of the boom-bust cycles that natural resource extraction always endures.

"Fortunately, Colorado’s economy, and we’ve been very pragmatic about this, is much more diversified than it was in 1985… So I don’t think it’s going to have anywhere near the impact on our economy that it did back then."

On the progress of the state’s Oil and Gas Task Force, whose recommendations are due in March

"I think they’re working on several ideas that might get to that 2/3 point [the proportion of support required for proposals to get approval from the task force]… I will call you immediately as soon as I can share some of that optimism with some specifics."

On his current views about the legalization of recreational marijuana, which he opposed during his first term in office

“I am still concerned about the consequences of that legalization… That being said, I think we’ve created a regulatory framework very rapidly, that I think is beginning to take shape as something that’s workable, and that, you know, we will eventually get rid of the black market. We haven’t done it yet.

"But you know, drug dealers, they don’t care who they sell to. If we’re successful in getting rid of the black market, we’ll make it harder for kids to get marijuana. And that’s a good thing.”

In response to a question about what advice he would give another governor whose state is considering whether to legalize recreational marijuana, Hickenlooper said he would still advise holding off for "at least a year or two."

On Republican proposals to roll back mandates on renewable energy production, passed in 2013

"I know of one rural community, they have really struggled with their electrical generation... At a certain point, they're going to say, 'We cannot do this without [increasing costs more than 2 percent].' Well if they can't do it, then they can't do it... and I told them, 'You want to do the best you can. You want to create as much electricity from renewable sources as you can, but you can't break the cap.'

"I think the law's more flexible than people perceive."