Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper urged Republicans again on Thursday to find a way to invest in roads and schools in the fast-growing state by avoiding taxpayer refunds.
Hickenlooper made the pitch in his State of the State address to the Legislature, insisting that lawmakers must determine how to pay for transportation and schools in the long term to keep Colorado's economy robust and support its growing population.
At some point, Hickenlooper suggested, lawmakers should revisit constitutional spending limits that require taxpayer refunds — money the governor wants to use for investment.
Republicans oppose his proposal to remove about $750 million in state hospital patient fees from the spending limits known as the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights."If we can't make this very reasonable change — like many already allowed by TABOR — then what choice do we have but to re-examine TABOR?" the governor said.
Under the limits, he said, his proposed budget calls for a $20 million cut in higher education with no increase in financial aid.
GOP Senate President Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs and others have called the plan illegal, citing a nonbinding legal opinion from the Legislature's lawyers. Hickenlooper is seeking a formal opinion from the attorney general.
Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, said Hickenlooper ignored increasing Medicaid spending that many Republicans blame for the financial state.
"Unless he solves the Medicaid issue, everything else seems to be pretty moot," Neville said.
Hickenlooper also focused on economic development, affordable housing and the environment. He announced the creation of a National Cybersecurity Intelligence Center in Colorado Springs — a venture with the University of Colorado that would focus on cybersecurity for businesses.
The governor wants Colorado to loosen liability rules on builders and developers as a way to create more affordable housing and called for extending a tax credit for those building low-income housing.
The so-called construction defects legislation has stalled in the Legislature in recent years. Some Democrats say it could hurt consumers and probably wouldn't lead developers to build cheaper condos.
Hickenlooper also said Colorado is putting together a list of contaminated abandoned mines. Such mines have been a fresh priority since August, when 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater spilled from the Gold King Mine north of Silverton. A federal crew accidentally triggered the leak, tainting rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.
The governor said he favors federal "Good Samaritan" legislation to encourage companies and nonprofits to clean up abandoned mines by protecting them from liability for environmental accidents.