It's fascinating to watch a pro work, so I was mesmerized by Gov. Hickenlooper's state of the state address last Thursday. As an example of the high art of political obfuscation, I can't recall better: this guy is slipperier than Slick Willie Clinton at his oiliest.
We all have to pull together, Coloradans. For the children. For firefighters and police officers. For teachers. For illegal immigrants, gays, indigents... If he could have tied in freezer space for minority polar bears, he would have. Because it's for the future. Wow.
The governor, who has been able to hide his politics behind a divided Legislature for two years, is desperately trying to maintain his façade as a practical, middle-of-the-road, "come-let-us-reason-together" type, not to mention just an all-around nice guy. But that's not going to be possible anymore. Instead, the governor will have to decide which among the zanier and costlier ideas coming to him from a Legislature dominated by the left will become law. It doesn't look good.
In his speech Gov. Hickenlooper said that, since tax revenues are improving we can "restore" the $1 billion "lost" to state funding for education over the past several years. But from 2008 through the present, state education spending has remained a fairly constant 28-29 percent of the General Fund, which has risen from $17.2 billion in 2008 to $20.5 billion in 2012. The exception to this steady rise was 2010, the year in which the governor cut about $375 million from education, but added $442 million to Medicare/Medicaid funding.
His language shows that our governor is clearly ready for Washington prime time, in which a "cut" or "loss" means a reduction to the rate of growth, rather than to the actual dollars in the budget. So when one hears the words "restore" and "investment," it's time to hide the wallet. Big government is back.
The governor spoke about health care at length, mentioning his plans to expand Medicaid coverage and arguing that it will save money. It won't. Central to this scheme are three assumptions: first, that $280 million in "cost savings" can be found in the state's Medicaid funding over the next 10 years; second, that the federal government will provide 100 percent of the program's cost through 2016, and 90 percent through 2020; third, that physicians will flock to a system that underpays them to such a degree that many now refuse to see additional Medicare/Medicaid patients. If any one of these doesn't go exactly as planned, Colorado will be on the hook for additional costs which could be as much as $850 million through 2023.
Gov. Hickenlooper's comment on "gun violence" seemed curiously offhand; it was as though he knew he had to address the issue, but was at a loss about how to walk the line between the gun-grabbers of the left and the unlimited firepower advocates of the right. Consequently, his suggestion - universal background checks - had a superficial appeal, but... If I give my 30-year-old son an 1852 cap-and-ball Navy Colt, should there be a background check? How about if it's a 1770 York County firelock? These are real examples, which illustrate the ridiculous nature of anything "universal," particularly if espoused in the heat of a "say something, for God's sake" moment.
The most troubling bit in the speech came near the end, when the governor lumped together the TABOR and Gallagher amendments and educational funding. Do not doubt, an invitation to "rewrite the School Finance Act" is an invitation to undermine those pesky brakes on state taxing and spending - "for the children," of course. Those interested in government that lives within its means must watch this carefully.
There were praiseworthy elements, such as nods to cutting government red tape, unnecessary regulations and efforts to keep Colorado attractive when competing for businesses. So was the recommendation of uniform oil and gas drilling codes under the mantle of COGCC, coupled with implicit advocacy for continued gas extraction - which has helped the country reduce our per capita carbon emissions to the level we saw in 1960, as the governor reminded us.
There were odd rhetorical flourishes, such as Gov. Hickenlooper's admonition for Coloradans to "...fix our gaze on the horizon." One might remind him that this is unwise when the path is narrow, dangerous and strewn with obstacles.
The governor ended his speech with a reference to Robert Louis Stevenson's Lamplighter, and an exhortation to us all to "punch holes in the darkness." Ironic, since 19th-century lamplighters were doing so by burning fossil fuels. Perhaps he meant us to bring light to the night, as long as it's powered by renewable energy?
But that's for another time.
Summit County resident Morgan Liddick pens a Tuesday column. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.