DENVER - Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper gave his state of the state address on Thursday with the message that despite devastating wildfires, deadly floods, the murder of Department of Corrections chief Tom Clements, the Arapahoe High School shooting and other tragedies, "the state of our state is strong."
"Yet, despite all of it, we did not let that define us. That is not our story," Hickenlooper said. "Our story—and what we showed the world is: Colorado does not shutdown. Colorado does not quit. Colorado does not break."
"We know there are folks out there still grieving, still recovering. We know there are people out there feeling the impact of the national economy’s downturns," Hickenlooper said. "But make no mistake—the state of Colorado has not only endured, it also has thrived. My fellow Coloradans, despite every unforeseen test, despite everything that was thrown at us, the state of our state is strong."
-- Economy, unemployment, business
Hickenlooper said while the national economy is sluggish, according to just about every forecast, trend and study, the state of the state of Colorado is only growing stronger.
"Colorado’s unemployment rate has not gone up. It has gone down to the lowest levels since 2008," HIcknelooper said. "This is our fourth consecutive year of economic growth."
Hickenlooper said according to a study from the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business, Colorado can expect robust job growth in virtually every sector of the economy this year.
"Colorado is ranked among the top five states in the entire country for business, careers and job growth," Hickenlooper said. "According to the Kauffman Foundation, when it comes to creating a small-business climate, this year Colorado earned a grade of “A.” That’s up from a “B+” in 2012."
Hickenlooper said Colorado hosted a record number of tourists this year.
"We gratefully welcomed even more hunters than last year," Hickenlooper said in reaction to the threatened boycotts by hunters after new gun control measurers were passed last year.
Hickenlooper said agriculture contributed $41 billion to the state's economy last year and he said since January 2010, the state has added 170,000 jobs.
"In 2010, companies were leaving Colorado. Today, they are moving here," Hickenlooper said. "In 2010, when it came to job growth, this state was ranked 40th in the nation. Now—three years later, in that same ranking, Colorado is the 4th fastest job growth state in the country. 40th to 4th."
Hickenlooper said three Fortune 500 companies have decided to call Colorado home along with 26 additional companies.
"The unemployment rate in Colorado has dropped from 9 percent in 2010 to 6.5 percent, outpacing the national rate," HIckenlooper said.
However, Hickenlooper said the unemployment rate is not low enough.
"More jobs all over Colorado is our highest priority," Hickenlooper said.
-- Reserve fund
Hickenlooper said three years ago, Colorado was setting aside about two percent of its general fund for reserves.
"That two percent gave the state only a seven-day cushion," Hickenlooper explained.
"Last year, we more than doubled that rate, to 5 percent. Our budget request is to grow the fund this year to 6.5 percent. "
"This money in reserve is what has enabled us to respond quickly to the disasters and get assistance to local partners," Hickenlooper said. "It’s what enabled us to get roads rebuilt and open -- ahead of schedule."
-- Improving state processes
Hickenlooper said the state has re-evaluated how every agency does business. He bragged that:
- Colorado’s Department of Transportation recently reported a 19 percent decrease in contracting timelines. Combined with other improvements their efforts are saving more than $2 million.
- In 2008, only 33 percent of property assessment appeals were resolved within one year. Now, 79 percent are.
- The Division of Real Estate reduced the average time it takes to complete an investigation of a mortgage loan by 44 percent.
Hickenlooper promised new equipment will reduce the average wait time at the Department of Motor Vehicles offices throughout the state from 60 minutes to 15.
Hickenlooper said moving forward, the state will remain focused on jobs, education, improving Colorado’s customer service and efficiency and supporting military families.
Hickenlooper asked lawmakers to pass legislation reforming the state's telecommunications laws.
He also wants rural and other unserved parts of Colorado to get the same broadband internet access as urban areas.
And Hickenlooper asked lawmakers to extend the job-creation tax credit from five years to seven.
"Enabling more businesses to maintain employees and hire new ones," HIckenlooper said.
Hickenlooper talked about the future, education and what to do now that voters turned down school funding changes in November.
"Colorado voters made clear they will not make new investments in education until they are convinced that current resources are being prudently managed," Hickenlooper said. "We are going to request that the General Assembly fund a plan to make the budget of every public school transparent. Let’s put the numbers on the internet and make the web a window."
Hickenlooper said he wants to change how students are counted. Instead of a single count day, he wants to count "average-daily-membership in our schools."
Hickenlooper said he also wants lawmakers to increase per-pupil funding by $223 this year and spend an additional $100 million for higher education.
"[That] would cap tuition increases at 6 percent and put college within the reach of more families," Hickenlooper said.
-- Oil & Gas
Hickenlooper said Colorado’s oil and gas industry contributes $29 billion to our economy.
"Critical to the success of the oil and gas industry is that operators recognize their moral and legal obligation to protect our air and water," Hickenlooper said.
Hickenlooper said Colorado brokered the nation’s strongest frack fluid disclosure rule in 2011.
"We are proposing the nation’s first-ever methane capture rule, making Colorado the leader in the nation for controlling emissions," Hickenlooper said.
-- Legalizing Marijuana
Hickenlooper talked about Colorado being first in the country to legalize recreational marijuana.
"Just as we must implement the voters’ wishes on marijuana, we are obligated to make sure that children and parents understand brain development and the risks of underage use. We are committed to a securing a safe, regulated and responsible environment," Hickenlooper said.
"This will be one of the great social experiments of this century, and while not all of us chose it, being first means we all share a responsibility to do it properly," Hickenlooper said.
-- Health care changes
Colorado is one of the states that created its own health insurance exchange.
"While other states have struggled with enrollment and implementation, Colorado has outperformed the national exchange and most states," Hickenlooper said. "More than 139,000 residents now have health insurance who didn’t have it before."
-- Political bickering
Hickenlooper asked lawmakers to ignore the divisive politics.
"I realize that if such a goal for a session ever seemed ambitious, it’s a time like this. But that’s precisely why we should set such a goal," HIckenlooper said.
The legislative session began yesterday and ends in May.
-- GOP response
Colorado Republican Committee Executive Director Shana Kohn released the following statement regarding Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper’s last State of the State Address:
“Gov. Hickenlooper certainly gave a good speech, but actions speak louder than words. In 2013, he also called for bipartisanship, and then oversaw the most divisive and partisan legislative session in memory. He waged war on rural Colorado, he criminalized law abiding gun owners, he pushed a massive $1 BILLION tax hike on working Coloradans and he refused to work across the aisle.
“As a result of his hyper-partisan and out-of-touch agenda, two Democratic lawmakers were recalled and another was forced to resign; 54 county sheriffs sued the state over his gun legislation and some Coloradans even contemplated seceding from the state -- This is the Hickenlooper legacy.
“While it is our hope that Gov. Hickenlooper stays true to his word this time, the Colorado Republican Committee will continue to work day-in and day-out to ensure that in 2014, we will have a governor who will actually respect, listen to and represent everyone in Colorado, regardless of their party affiliation or where they live.”