John Hickenlooper Urged By Progressives To Consider Revenue Options

02/16/2011 01:50 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Make no mistake, the choices we are making today will hurt," Governor John Hickenlooper said on Tuesday as he delivered his budget plan to the Joint Budget Committee of the Colorado Legislature.

In the aftermath of Hickenlooper's announcement--which proposes $375 million in cuts to K-12 education, and asks state employees to contribute an additional 2% of their salaries to the state's pension fund--Hickenlooper himself may be feeling the pain as several groups that have traditionally been loyal to Democrats are criticizing his approach to the budget.

"Our students suffered a $260 million cut last year and now are looking at another $375 million - meaning each student will go to school in August 2011 with $500 less in state resources than this school year. This is plain wrong when you consider that we must provide our students with a 21st century education using fewer resources," said Beverly Ingle, President of the Colorado Education Association in a statement.

Ingle acknowledged that the Governor, who was forced to propose more 2011-2012 budget cuts after a sobering December revenue report, was in an unenviable position. Nonetheless, she urged him to explore options to alleviate the burden on schools, which account for 41% of the state's general fund budget.

"We know the governor is in an impossible situation and everyone has to do their part. That being said, we have to start talking about a long-term solution. Facing a huge revenue crisis every year and bleeding money from schools is not a sustainable solution," she said.

Others have been more direct in urging the Governor to start talking about measures that would raise more revenue for the state.

"If we cannot have this conversation [about revenue], then the people of Colorado can expect many more days like today in the years ahead," Mike Cerbo, a former Democratic lawmaker and current executive director of the Colorado AFL-CIO, told the AP.

Democrats on the Joint Budget Committee echoed this sentiment directly to Hickenlooper on Tuesday.

"We know that economic development and education are one and the same. What we're doing is cutting economic development," Senator Rollie Heath of Boulder said in urging Hickenlooper to consider supporting measures to increase revenues.

Any effort to increase taxes would require voter approval, and thus not apply to the fiscal year 2011-2012. However, the Governor's budget proposal did not seek alternative means of raising revenue, such as closing tax exemptions. Last year, Democrats in the legislature made hundreds of millions of dollars available to the state's general fund by suspending certain exemptions written into the state's tax code.

Earlier this month, the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, a progressive organization, submitted 6 ballot initiative proposals to the Legislative Council that would make the state's flat income and corporate taxes graduated.

On Tuesday, the organization's director, Carol Hedges, used the stark reality of Hickenlooper's budget cuts to call for "a more complete conversation" on the state's finances.

"Our state government simply needs more revenue to do the things Coloradans expect, and voters have the power to change our future," Hedges said in a statement.

The initiatives must clear several legal and political hurdles before having a chance to appear on the 2011 ballot.

Hickenlooper said earlier this month that he does not sense an appetite for tax increases in the state, and sees tax reform as too complex to be hammered out this year. He reiterated that position on Tuesday.

"We need to be more pro-business," Hickenlooper said when questioned by Heath about the state's revenues.

"When you are [this] far underwater in revenues and voters aren't reaching out and embracing new taxes, you really have no choice but to reach out and try to make people more conscious of business and try to help each business hire each person," the Governor told the Colorado Independent.