Gov. John Hickenlooper: July, 2011

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Our regular interview with Gov. John Hickenlooper focuses on his new economic development plan, plus recent controversies over a new health care reform panel and proposed child care regulations. And Hickenlooper talks about President Obama's prospects in Colorado during next year's election. Ryan Warner speaks with Hickenlooper at his office in the state capitol.

[Photo: Colorado governor's office]

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Governor, thanks for being with us again.

JOHN HICKENLOOPER, Colorado Governor:

Glad to be back.

Warner: This plan has six bullet points, themes, including creating a business-friendly environment and creating and marketing the Colorado brand. And when I was reading these, it struck me that pretty much all of them seem to be things you talked about frequently on the campaign trail. What's new here?

Hickenlooper: Well, I think that what we saw as fresh was the consistency around the state. I mean, we talked to people from all 64 counties and pretty much everyone kept coming back to certain key elements. And we talked about some of them on the campaign trail, some of them less so.

But this notion that there is red tape and it's not just state, but it's county government, it's municipal government. People feel that their small businesses are held back and entangled by needless paperwork and, you know, waiting times and, obviously, we need appropriate regulation, but we've got to be focused on how can we make it simpler and easier.

Access to capital -- we heard, again, all over the state. Small businesses, even ones that are making money, if their assets, if their collateral for the loan isn't in quite the good condition that maybe it was two years ago or three years ago, they can't get a loan, even though they're profitable.

And these are places where I think, you know, state government can play a role. We can help try to cut red tape and expand access to capital.

Warner: Red tape is certainly something we heard a lot along the campaign trail from you. What examples of red tape emerged?

Hickenlooper: Well, we're already working on some. The Colorado Department of Transportation, CDOT, like the forms if you want to bid on doing state work, repairing a bridge, you know, road work, I forget which the specific was, but the form was almost 70 pages long and it hadn't been touched since 1984. We want to make it easy for them, right? And have them not spend so much time on the application. We want them focused on getting the lowest price and the highest quality work for the State of Colorado.

Warner: You talked about red tape at the county level, as well, emerging in this bottom-up economic development plan. What were examples there?

Hickenlooper: One example, the-- to get food stamps it's a 29-page application. And we're going to get that down to a five- or a six-page or a three-page application. Those long applications, not only are they a hindrance and just a pain in the neck for individuals to fill out, but they require someone to go through them and take all that information and put it into-- you know, and put it into the right place and make sure that we keep this huge inventory of information, most of which we don't really need.

Warner: Did taxes emerge as an issue that businesses brought up? At the end of the last administration, there were exemptions taken off the table. Lawmakers reversed two of those this year. A third is tied up in court. But are there any more that you can point to you'd be willing to lift? Or were they cited as hindrances by businesses?

Hickenlooper: We heard some pushback around taxes in some parts of the state, but it wasn't the first thing that came out of people's mouths, by any stretch of the imagination. I mean, personally, I'd like to get a group of people to sit down and say, all right, how do we simplify our tax system and have less exemptions and loopholes or so-called loopholes? How do we have a flatter tax system and everybody pays, but maybe everybody pays at a lower rate and we don't have any special breaks for one group or another? I generally am from the school that simpler is better.

Warner: How soon do you think we might see something like that?

Hickenlooper: Oh, that would take a long time. Boy, when you begin-- when you begin tinkering with people's tax system, everybody pays attention and everybody's got a-- you know, got a horse in the race. So, that would be a process.

We get a small group of, I think, accountants and people from the Department of Revenue and some executives and have them kind of look at what they think a more simplified tax system might look like and then we'd have to have a long process of making sure everyone got a voice and, obviously, the legislature would really have to play a leading role in that.

Warner: Each of the regions in this bottoms-up-- I keep saying "bottoms up," I think, which is a reference, actually, to your earlier career.

Hickenlooper: I love hearing people say "bottoms up."

Warner: Bottoms up.

Hickenlooper: But that's not what we're talking about.

Warner: No.

Hickenlooper: That is my earlier career.

Warner: Right. It's bottom-up.

Hickenlooper: It's bottom-up.

Warner: And each of the regions in the state came up with specific ideas for projects that they'd like to see in their areas. Could you point to one that you thought was novel or innovative?

Hickenlooper: There are a number of really interesting solutions that people are coming up with all over the state and some of them are controversial. Some of them are, you know, widely embraced.

So, you know, in Pueblo, they're obviously working on their river walk down there and they've got some very specific ideas down there that are, I think, exciting.

Warner: This is along a business district?

Hickenlooper: Yeah, that they want to expand.

Warner: Shops and restaurants and--

Hickenlooper: And they want to get more tourists, more conventions down there, expand their convention center.

One thing that was suggested in Northern Colorado, the so-called NISP, which is a water storage system that--

Warner: This is in the controversial territory, it's safe to say.

Hickenlooper: This is in the more controversial territory where there are strong advocates on both sides.

Warner: NISP is the Northern Integrated Supply Project.

Hickenlooper: Exactly.

Warner: People were dying to know.

Hickenlooper: Exactly. They'd have to-- they'd want to know what that stands for. I mean, you know, Durango wanted to make sure that they have the training and the support for their workforce in a more specialized way. Grand Junction--

Warner: Specialized how in Durango?

Hickenlooper: Well, you know, Durango has a number of interesting companies, like Mercury Payment Systems. They're that interface between when you buy something at a retail store or a restaurant and you swipe your credit card, Mercury is the one who's the interface between that machine and the bank that your money comes out of and goes back to the retailer. I mean, they've got 400 employees. But 100 employees aren't in Durango, just because they don't have enough talent there.

And they also-- broadband Internet, having redundant high-speed Internet. Durango's at a point where they've got these, you know, incipient new tech companies, but they need more broadband capacity.

Warner: You're listening to Colorado Matters. I'm Ryan Warner and we're at the Capitol for our regular discussion with Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The GOP has seized on some comments you made that Obama would have a tough time winning Colorado if the election were today. Republicans have included this in talking points that are sent nationally and in an ad, as well. Is it something you regret saying?

Hickenlooper: Well, obviously, I'm-- this is the part-- I'm not-- I haven't come up through the political system, so I generally say what I think and what seems to be on my mind. I don't think through, thoroughly, how it might sound, taken out of context.

The truth of the matter is I think that the president would have a challenging situation if the election was held today. I think that's what I said. I think that's true.

The bottom line is, a lot of people blame him for this recession, which was, in no way, his fault. It was something he inherited and when he took office it was still accelerating in a downward direction. I'm going to guess that his campaign will, rather forcefully, demonstrate that his actions kept us from going into a depression.

Warner: The last time we talked, you had just announced your appointments to the new Health Benefit Exchange Board and it's going to be writing the rules for a new insurance marketplace for hundreds of thousands of Coloradans.

Consumer groups are complaining that the new board's makeup is too heavily weighted toward the insurance industry. Do they have a point?

Hickenlooper: Well, they're-- I think their point is misdirected. Part of the problem is that there are a number of different-- the legislature appoints certain people, I appoint certain people. So we all made appointments. But what we were all trying to do was find people that really understood the system and yet were compelling to us that they wanted to change the system. And in this new age of trying to address healthcare, how do we expand coverage to-- hopefully, to everyone, but at the same time control the rise in costs?

To say that you don't want any insurance companies or people that understand how insurance companies work, you know, you're not seeing the whole forest. You're just looking at some of the trees.

The whole idea behind the exchange is, we bring together individuals and small businesses and let them get a real benefit of buying power by banding together. They should get the same kinds of rates that giant corporations do. That's a great innovation, right? And to maximize the benefit from that innovation, we need people from all parts of the industry and we also need and we have a number of consumer advocates on the exchange, as well.

I don't know, I think we lose if we begin limiting the voices in these kinds of arenas to a narrow subset of who is somehow politically appropriate.

Warner: We talked a little earlier about cutting red tape and the state recently came out with a series of proposed regulations governing child care centers, 98 pages of proposed regulations, to be exact, and they've created some controversy, because some of the ideas get pretty specific, like--

Hickenlooper: I know. I've heard them.

Warner: You've heard them, but let me repeat them. Each classroom has to have at least 10 crayons.

Hickenlooper: Right. And what are the colors of those crayons?

And, you know, I don't think we'll end up with that. Obviously, what happens is, it's a typical process that we're, you know, coming forward with a proposal. We're not, but the folks that are really focused on trying to take what used to be called day care centers and really move them towards early education centers.

And this is typical. What happens is, they come forward with a long list of what their wishes are and then it gets pared down as it goes in front of the Board of Human Services. You know, I do not think we will end up saying that you need 10 crayons in every classroom and these are the colors that you need to have. That won't be there.

It'll get dramatically pared down.

Warner: You're six months into your administration now. That leaves you three and a half years 'til you'd be up for reelection. But the Colorado Statesman, a political newspaper, reports that you had your first campaign fund raiser last month. Why so early?

Hickenlooper: Well, we had a little bit of-- a few thousand dollars of debt. But you also--

Warner: From the last campaign?

Hickenlooper: From the last campaign. You also want to make sure that, you know, that you have a website and ongoing that you can communicate with the various constituencies about what you're trying to do in a political sense. And that requires a certain amount of money. Also, I think that, you know, putting things off to the end where there's a rush and you're out trying to raise all this money -- and I can show you on my handheld device here, if you look at it, we have a number there that says how many days are left in the administration, right?

Warner: Okay, it's-- today it's--

Hickenlooper: Twelve hundred--

Warner: One thousand, two hundred, seventy three.

Hickenlooper: Right. So that's how many days are left in the administration. And every day on my daybook where I have my schedule, that's at the top of the list of how many days are left. You know, that sense of time, that it's a limited amount of time, that focus, helps us create a sense of urgency and get things done.

And, you know, making sure you've got money on hand also gives you a certain freedom that I know I won't have to do it all at the last minute.

Warner: It's-- you don't count down from eight years, you count down from four?

Hickenlooper: I just count down from four years, exactly. That would be a little presumptuous were I to try and count down from eight years.

Warner: Governor, thank you so much for being with us.

Hickenlooper: Always a pleasure, Ryan.