Gov. John Hickenlooper: September, 2011

Listen Now

In our regular conversation, we get Hickenlooper’s views on President Obama’s jobs plan and on a statewide ballot measure to raise money for schools.

[Photo: Office of Gov. John Hickenlooper]



Governor, thank you for being with us again.

JOHN HICKENLOOPER, Colorado Governor:

Great to be back.

Warner: President Obama was in town earlier this week promoting his plan to create jobs. A big chunk of the money he wants to spend, $30 billion, would go to schools to rehire teachers who have been laid off, keep those who risk being let go and maybe allow for some new hires. Is that the right approach?

Hickenlooper: Well, I think going over the last two and a half to three years in Colorado, we have lost a lot of teachers and certainly as the economy slowly works way its out of this recession we feel additional pressure on every part of the budget, but certainly education is no exception.

So, we would welcome the resources. Now, looking at all the challenges with the federal budget, whether that's the highest priority for them, I'm sure will be hotly debated in the month to come.

The cuts we made in education last year were the single most difficult political cuts I've ever made. Certainly in my years as Mayor of Denver I never had to do anything that I felt so wrong about. I mean, there just was no other choice, but when you're cutting those kinds of funds to education, it is very, very difficult.

Warner: Some in the GOP are calling Obama's plan, "Son of Stimulus." Critics say the first one didn't work, that unemployment remains high, the risk of a double-dip recession still very real. What would you tell the unconvinced?

Hickenlooper: The first stimulus, I don't think anyone thought that pouring all that money into the economy was going to lift us out of the recession and put us on the road to prosperity. We were worried about going into a depression, not just a deep recession, but a genuine depression. At that time, the prevailing wisdom was, from both sides of the aisle, that we needed to pump money into the system.

Now the difference today is here they're being much more strategic. They're looking at tax cuts to payroll so that, you know, in Colorado 130,000 businesses would benefit and, hopefully, it would incent them to hire new people. It would go towards, you know, again, first responders and teachers who we've had to cut. I mean, all the infrastructure investments -- broadband and making sure that we have more money for-- to make sure we don't get so tied up in congestion and traffic.

I think those are much more strategic investments that will bring benefit to our business community and in that sense, in the years to come, pay for themselves. That's certainly the strategy.

Warner: Let's stick with school funding. There's an initiative on the state ballot that would raise taxes for K through 12 education and colleges and universities. You're not taking a position on this. The chair of the state Republican Party, Ryan Call, says this issue is important enough that you ought to take a stand. He told the Denver Post that you shouldn't be hiding under the table.

Hickenlooper: (laughs) Well, you know, if I was hiding under the table, you'd hear much more of an echo. You know, I said from the beginning that going all over the state I was asked repeatedly whether I would come out and support a tax, you know, right in my first year and I said I wouldn't. So, clearly, I'm not going to support it.

Now, do I want to attack it? When you start cutting north of $250 million, $300 million, from education, if you're looking at cutting all kinds of services that people desperately need, you know, the housing tax exemption for seniors, you're sympathetic to the needs of revenue. So, in certain cases like this, I think it's not a bad thing to-- sometimes just to sit on the sidelines and say, all right, let's not go out and try and overly dramatize this. Let's let the people hear the facts and make a decision.

Warner: Well, what do you think they should weigh when they're making that decision? What would you weigh?

Hickenlooper: I think the key for anybody making a decision on revenues is what do I see as the benefits and what are the real costs and is it worth it? Do I have value for the investment?

Warner: Well, perhaps you can shed some light on that. So if the tax were to pass, would people get value from that money?

Hickenlooper: So, now you're trying to get me to come out and take a position on the tax?

Warner: No, I'm--

Hickenlooper: You might have missed what I just said.

Warner: But what I'm asking you is that you, as the chief executive officer of the state, would know whether that money coming in would have a good use, would be wisely used by the state, so I'm asking you--?

Hickenlooper: Well, those are two different-- those are two different questions, right? One is whether it's adequate value, which is the question you asked. And that really-- if you think it's adequate value, then you are basically recommending people to vote for it.

Now whether it would be of value, certainly it would be of value. I don't think anybody questions that. Is it of sufficient value for the investment? That's what people want to make. That's what each individual is trying to decide.

Warner: You're listening to Colorado Matters. I'm Ryan Warner and we're speaking with Gov. John Hickenlooper. He talks with us regularly from the State Capitol.

The state's latest revenue forecast is out and your budget staff is predicting that it may take $500 million in cuts to balance next year's budget. With that in mind, a big property tax break for seniors, it's called the homestead exemption -- you mentioned it a little earlier -- it's supposed to be reinstated next year. It's worth about $100 million a year.

Can the state afford to reinstate that, given these forecasts?

Hickenlooper: Well, that's going to be one of the-- I mean, there are going to be about a half dozen difficult discussions to have. Can we afford that $93 million? Can we afford to cut public education by $93 million?

I mean, one way to look at the homestead exemption is, if we were to go forward another year and not be able to deliver the homestead exemption, which that decision has not been made, let me be clear, but one way to approach that would be to look at how do we make sure that seniors who are in difficult economic times, who are really having-- because of the economy, can't make their tax payments on their home, is there some way we can help them, those who are most at risk, that we don't let them get-- slip through the cracks and get cast out on to the street?

Warner: You said that the homestead exemption was one of about a dozen difficult conversations? Do you think that--?

Hickenlooper: Oh, actually, probably two dozen if we were really going to--

Warner: Two dozen? Give us an example of another one.

Hickenlooper: I don't want to give you examples, because then you're just going to ask me difficult questions and I'll have to, you know, work my way around.

I mean, obviously, education is a difficult one. Medical services for very low income families. Higher ed is going to be a very difficult issue, right? We've cut higher ed just about to the bone.

That's skimming the surface, but each of those needs has real importance to our state's future and there's no magical way to suddenly say, well, we're just going to punt the football for a couple years. We've got to figure out those decisions and those balances this year.

Warner: Well, I want to ask a follow-up question on a question that we asked you in our last conversation. What we did is we had listeners pose questions. And several of our listeners asked about how to regulate fracking, the practice of injecting chemicals into the earth and freeing up oil and natural gas. A lot of people are concerned those chemicals could contaminate ground water.

You said at the time that you don't believe fracking does contaminate ground water in Colorado, but that you were working with the Colorado Oil and Gas Association on a water sampling program to do baseline tests of water before drilling takes place so that the quality of the water can be measured before and after fracking.

Hickenlooper: Yeah.

Warner: And we've got a follow-up question from a listener named Don Schulz (ph), who says, "I'm listening to the governor explain how he's going to monitor wells that involve fracking. I wonder where he's going to get the money to pay those state employees to go to the wells, gather the water samples and analyze them?"

Hickenlooper: What would happen in the plan that we're working on is that this would be considered a cost of drilling and the oil and gas exploration company that's drilling the well would pay for the water sampling and it would be sent to an independent laboratory. They would test it and measure it and then file the results with the state. The state would get to have a voice and make sure that the laboratory is licensed and independent, you know, that the laboratory analysis is performed properly, and then we would post the results, but they would be paid for by the company drilling the well.

Warner: And are those companies open to this?

Hickenlooper: Yes, they are.

Warner: Finally, your name is bandied about when it comes to Democratic presidential candidates in 2016.

Hickenlooper: Uh-huh.

Warner: Would you have any interest in being the President of the United States?

Hickenlooper: Well, I think it would be fascinating and interesting. Do I have any interest in doing it? No. I mean, let's be realistic. Ask anyone who knows me well if they, in their wildest dreams, could imagine me as President of the United States. I don't think it's conceivable.

First, my wife and my son would shoot me. Second, I don't appeal to the right constituencies, the groups of organizations and supporters who decide those kinds of primaries. So it would be impossible to even consider. And C, I'd have to leave Colorado. And to be pretty blunt, I mean, I've got, I think, the greatest job that anyone could have. You get to be governor of a state as beautiful as Colorado and, I mean, we are in a place where we can solve some of these problems and set a model for the rest of the United States.

So, it's very complimentary. I think it's good for the state to have people, you know, talk about me and say, well, that Hickenlooper, you know, oh, well, vice president. It's not going to happen, you know.

Rest assured, I can give you a -- how about this, I give you a personal guarantee?

Warner: Personal guarantee. That tape's going to come back to haunt you or something.

Hickenlooper: (laughs)

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

Hickenlooper: All right. Always a pleasure.

Warner: Democrat John Hickenlooper, the Governor of Colorado, speaks with us regularly from the State Capitol.