DENVER – After months of ducking reporters’ questions, Gov. John Hickenlooper made up his mind to support a nearly $1 billion income tax hike for public education Wednesday. The governor revealed his decision Wednesday at a closed door meeting of the Colorado Forum.
The governor has yet to make an official announcement of his support for Initiative 22, which requires 86,105 valid petition signatures to be placed on the November ballot. The petitions, circulated by paid canvassers and volunteers of the teachers union, are due Aug. 5.
Hickenlooper declared he would participate in the “Colorado Commits to Kids” campaign for the tax increase on May 21 when he signed Senate Bill 213, a so-called school reform measure, into law.
But, two weeks later the governor told reporters that he was “ambivalent” about the tax campaign. Hickenlooper had received 16 tax plans proposed by Colorado Forum, and hadn’t picked one to support.
After word leaked of Hickenlooper’s change of heart, KDVR-Fox 31 News reporter Eli Stokols contacted the governor’s chief strategist Alan Salazar for a confirmation.
“The governor has been talking to business leaders about how transformative the new school finance law will be for Colorado kids,” Salazar texted. Hickenlooper’s support for the tax initiative is “probably the worst kept secret in town,” he said
Colorado Forum dispatched a list of members for the media to contact and confirm the governor’s comments made during their breakfast. One of those was Dan Ritchie, chairman and CEO of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.
“I know (Hickenlooper) has been wrestling with it for some time, talking to a lot of folks and reading and rereading but he came out very strongly and very positively in support of the reforms and the necessary taxing to do it,” Ritchie told The Denver Post.
“He’s willing to take the leadership as I understood him,” said Ritchie.
But, the governor’s leadership style has been questioned on this issue as well as others over the past year. The critics include liberals and conservatives.
“On May 21 you signed SB 213 into law. Today I circulated a petition to get it on the Ballot. Where are you,” tweeted CEA union President Kerrie Dallman on June 14, prodding Hickenlooper to take a stronger stand in support of the tax hike.
The chiding tweet from the teacher’s union president was reported by Colorado Peak Politics and prompted calls for Hickenlooper get off the fence and make up his mind. And finally, he did in a private meeting this week.
“Decision making clearly isn’t Governor Hickenlooper’s strong suit,” said Compass Colorado Executive Director Kelly Maher in a statement. “The way in which he announced support for a massive tax increased should offend Coloradans who deserve decisive leadership.”
“Being cornered into announcing Colorado families should be burdened with an additional billion dollars in taxes isn’t something to do in a closed-door meeting,” said Maher.
Owen Loftus, spokesman for the Colorado Republican Party, noted that Hickenlooper had signed the education finance reform bill into law, but it would be a hollow piece of legislation without the funding.
“I’d like to commend Gov. Hickenlooper for privately coming forward to support the $1 billion tax hike that he previously wasn’t sure he supported, but is required by a piece of legislation that he signed into law,” said Loftus in a statement.
The governor’s “leadership, if you can even call it that, is anything but inspiring,” said Loftus.