DENVER – A plan by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper to engage communities in charting a new course for Colorado has generated skepticism because of its vague goals and name – TBD Colorado.
During the last several months, the project has involved more than 60 statewide community meetings and more than 1,200 residents. Organizers are now beginning to process data reflecting whether residents want government to prioritize spending for education, transportation, health care or other areas.
Detractors of the initiative, which stands for “To Be Determined,” remain leery.
“To this point, it all seems pretty vague,” said House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch. He and other Republicans worry that Hickenlooper is laying the groundwork for a tax increase – something the governor has insisted is unpalatable to voters.
“My hope is that there will be opportunities that arise out of TBD for us simply to run government better and be more efficient, be more responsive,” McNulty said.
It’s not unusual for governors to have some type of civic-engagement initiative, but they typically go nowhere, McNulty said.
Hickenlooper announced the initiative during his State of the State address in January, saying TBD would focus on listening and not imposing top-down, government-driven solutions.
Hickenlooper’s office dismissed the notion that its goal is a tax hike.
“We know some may believe there was a pre-conceived plan about what would result from TBD Colorado. But that simply isn’t true,” Hickenlooper spokesman Eric Brown said. “It’s also the beauty in the name. The outcome is to be determined.”
Initiative organizers are working on a report to present in November. The initiative, which has a budget of $1.2 million, is funded by donations from individuals, foundations and corporations.
Participants at the meetings around the state were polled on what they thought should be the priorities of government. Some gave their answers after going through an interactive online budgeting process that forced them to balance the state budget. They had to make cuts if they wanted more money for other services.
The areas that received the most support were providing funding for home and community-based services for the elderly and disabled; maintenance of the state transportation system; managed care for Medicaid; and expanding funding for early-childhood education.
About 63 percent also supported restoring the state’s income-tax rate to 5 percent, as it was in 1999. It is currently 4.63 percent. An increase would boost state revenue by $414.8 million.
Last year, voters rejected a tax increase that would have temporarily restored the income-tax rate to 5 percent. Democrats behind the proposed increase said it was necessary to get more funding for schools. Hickenlooper remained neutral on the proposed tax increase.
Lawmakers have long complained that conflicting constitutional amendments, which limit taxes and spending while calling for increasing funding for K-12 education, have hamstrung the state budget.
TBD participants seem to agree. They supported either having a constitutional convention or abolishing the tax and spending limits known as the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, and the mandatory increase in education funding, known as Amendment 23.
“Regardless of what side of the fence you’re on, it became clear there are no black-and-white solutions,” said Weld County resident John Spillane, 56, one of the participants.
Barbara Raynor, 52, said she enjoyed having a say in talking about the state’s future.
“That accessibility lends some credibility to the process,” she said.
But Raynor is still waiting for the outcome of TBD.
“I guess my sense would be that, that’s still TBD for me,” she said.