Reactions to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s final State of the State speech Wednesday fell predictably along party-lines, with rah-rahs from Democrats and less enthusiasm from Republicans.
The governor took 49 minutes to talk about his agenda for the 2018 legislative session and his final year in office. “We have a lot to accomplish in the next 119 days” and in the final 364 days of his term as governor, he said.
The speech’s key points touched on transportation, the state water plan, rural broadband, health care costs and choice, and finding a way to pay down the $828 million shortfall in education.
After his remarks, Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran of Denver addressed transportation, including the Democrats’ wish that a comprehensive package include transit, such as bus service or bike lanes.
“We definitely need to go to the ballot in 2018,” Duran told reporters. “Transportation funding is a priority for us in the House and for the governor; we hope with additional revenue we can make investments,” a nod to a recent revenue forecast that said the state would have more money in 2018 than expected.
Hickenlooper responded last week to the forecast with a revised budget request that seeks $148.2 million of that surplus for transportation. But Duran indicated that was not going to be enough. “Even then, we have to go to the ballot in 2018” with a solution that more closely matches the failed 2017 bill that sought a state sales tax increase.
Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Republican from Canon City, said he thinks the state could take that surplus and put it to education as well as transportation. “Given the Legislative Council forecast we can do transportation and education. It’s not an either or, we could do both. If those are truly priorities, let’s do it.”
The morning started with humor: Grantham took charge of the joint session of the General Assembly, held in the House. He briefly stood on the platform that the much shorter Duran uses on a daily basis to look over the podium. The platform hiked his 6-foot-4 frame by about another foot, making him tower over Duran even more, and drawing laughs from lawmakers.
First-time lawmaker Dylan Roberts, who was appointed to fill a vacancy in October, said the first two days of the session have been exciting and even a little surreal.
Roberts said he took note of the governor’s call for compromise and bipartisanship and to get results. “We can get a lot done in that amount of time if we can work together,” Roberts told Colorado Politics.
The Eagle Democrat also applauded the governor’s call for rural broadband (a perennial topic) and for reliable funding for transportation. Roberts indicated he found the governor’s statement that the state has $25 billion in unmet need a little stunning
Assistant House Minority Leader Cole Wist, R-Centennial, praised the governor’s ability to connect with his audience and said he appreciated the speech’s focus on rural Colorado. “Having grown up in Delta County, we know our rural communities are hurting in a number of respects,” he said. “I really appreciated the major devotion of time in the speech to rural Colorado.”
Wist, however, frowned at the reception a portion of the speech got in the chamber.
“I think it’s interesting the line that got the most applause on the Democratic side of the aisle was that we need to go ask for a tax increase,” Wist said. “What I’d hoped to hear from the governor today was what we’re going to do with this large surplus of money we see today.
“I didn’t hear anything in the speech about that, which was a disappointment. We’ve been pretty consistent on our side that we shouldn’t go to voters to ask for more money until we do a good job with the money we have. We have a fundamental disagreement with the governor about that issue.”
Recalling that he co-sponsored a bill about workforce development in his first session – one of the things Wist said he was most proud of during his two previous session – Wist applauded Hickenlooper’s discussion about ways the public sector and the private sector can work together.
“I think he has his finger on the pulse in terms of educating the workers of tomorrow, and I think we need to continue to work on that,” he said.
State Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, said he thought Hickenlooper’s focus on business was worth noting.
“He’s been a business mayor, he’s been a business governor, and so to have such a business-heavy speech kind of brought him back to his roots,” Melton said.
“I loved what he had to say about broadband and the education stuff. Something I’d never heard before, which was having coding as a second language, especially as we’re talking about technology here in Colorado.
He added that he heard some good things for his district, which includes a thriving technology corridor flanking Buckley Air Force Base, which contributes more than $1 billion to the metro area’s economy. “In Aurora, it’s important that we work with Buckley, and what he talked about today is exactly what we need.”
Hickenlooper’s speech was not without some of his “aw shucks” humor.
He took a bit of a dig at the long list of people who want to succeed him while at the same time praising 7-year old Ashley Scott. Two years ago, the Colorado Springs girl started a holiday benefit, purchasing blankets, socks and gloves for the homeless. Last year she expanded the effort to partner with 20 businesses, her school and others in the community. Scott had a front-row seat to the governor’s remarks as an invited guest.
“It’s a shame you’re not 23 years older,” Hickenlooper told her. “You could run for governor ... Everyone else is doing it!,” which drew the speech’s biggest laughs.
The audience included at least four candidates for governor: State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman; former congressman Tom Tancredo, who lost to Hickenlooper twice; and Hickenlooper’s lieutenant governor, Donna Lynne.