Gov. Hickenlooper: Modify TABOR To Pay Colorado Teachers More

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Photo: Hickenlooper 10-25-17 (NM)
Gov. John Hickenlooper gestures during an interview in his office Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017.

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.

Interview Highlights

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."

Read The Full Transcript

Ryan Warner: This is CPR News. I'm Ryan Warner. Fourth grade teacher Kathy Rio walked into the State
Capitol this morning to deliver a stack of hand-written letters to the governor. Rio teaches in Douglas
County, and her students had written in pencil, on notebook paper, why they think schools deserve more
money. She read a few highlights for us.