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Gov. Hickenlooper looks to lock in his Colorado legacy in State of the State today

By: Peter Marcus, coloradopolitics.com
January 12, 2017 Updated: January 12, 2017 at 7:34 am
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photo - Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado speaks during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Thursday, July 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado speaks during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Thursday, July 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) 

DENVER - Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday morning will deliver his seventh State of the State address, following the most polarizing national election in recent memory, and ahead of his final two years in office.

It would seem impossible for the Colorado governor not to acknowledge the divisive election, from which emotions are sure to spill into the legislature. Lawmakers convened on Wednesday.

And with only two years left in his term, the governor might want to remind Coloradans of some of his major legacy accomplishments, including signing bills allowing same-sex civil unions, in-state tuition for undocumented Colorado college students and requiring universal firearms background checks.

The legislature that he will address at 11 a.m. Thursday will be the same assembly that oversees his final two years, and so Hickenlooper might also want to push lawmakers to help round-out his legacy by solving funding issues, such as identifying resources for crumbling roads and highways and education.

No matter what the governor focuses on, healing will likely be a part of his tone.

Hickenlooper was a Hillary Clinton surrogate on the campaign trail. He was even mentioned as a possible running mate or cabinet member for the failed Democratic presidential candidate.

But rather than harken back to the divisive political tone of the election, Hickenlooper is likely to speak to the pain experienced by all sides during the distressing election. He would be wise to remind Coloradans how they can come together in the wake of the political turmoil, despite frustrations and anxieties that still exist.

And when it comes to looming Trump administration proposals — such as expanding oil and gas operations — the governor can point out that Colorado has worked to balance energy development with the health and safety of communities. The state enacted stringent methane regulations in 2014.

A productive legislative session could help quell some of that tension that still exists after the election. After all, if voters see both parties in Colorado working together for the good of the people, that success could ease their skepticism.

Even though discussions over restructuring the Hospital Provider Fee are largely dead, with Senate Republicans calling the proposal a nonstarter, Hickenlooper might come back to it in his State of the State.

The proposal — first floated by the governor’s office two years ago — would restructure the fee as an enterprise fund, or government-owned business. The fee is assessed on hospitals to force a match of larger federal health care dollars.

The plan — which never made it to the floor for debate in the Senate last year and died over GOP objections — would have exempted the hospital fee from TABOR, taking the revenue out of the TABOR calculation and lowering taxpayer rebates set aside in the general fund, thereby freeing money for spending.

Republicans have been clear that the issue is again going nowhere.

But Hickenlooper could pivot from that by saying if not the hospital provider fee, then the legislature needs to come up with some other source of funding, especially for transportation.

Some ideas out there include asking voters to raise the sales or gas taxes. Another idea is to refer a bonding proposal to voters.

One thing that Hickenlooper might want to avoid, however, is talking too much about the Front Range. With rural Colorado not experiencing the same economic prosperity seen along the Front Range, the governor would be smart to address how his administration is working to benefit rural parts of the state.

And when it comes to government regulations, the governor could speak to saving money and cutting regulations, something that Republicans hope to make a priority this session.

The State of the State address is scheduled for 11 a.m. in the House chamber at the Capitol.

Keep your eyes on ColoradoPolitics.com for news of the speech, photos and video.

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