Guest Commentary: Hickenlooper No Longer a Centrist

September 23, 2013
ZVONEK: Hickenlooper has lost the pragmatic centrism that made him so appealing not all that long ago

ZVONEK: Hickenlooper has lost the pragmatic centrism that made him so appealing not all that long ago

A national survey of how states are doing, and where they’re heading, finds the emergence of two distinct groups. One group is boldly taking steps to improve their business climate and get their fiscal affairs in order to spur job creation and give taxpayers a break. In the meantime, the other group, as if stuck in a rut, continues on a last-century trajectory that leads to economic decline and fiscal disaster.

Colorado should by all rights be leading the first group, given all the apparent advantages we enjoy, including a governor, John Hickenlooper, who came to office with real business experience and a reputation for pragmatic centrism. Yet a state that should be leading the pack is running with the herd, and seemingly on the verge of falling ever further behind – and a big reason for that is Hickenlooper’s steady drift in the wrong direction and open embrace of failed policies.

Last session he backed legislation, SB252, a bill that increases green energy standards for rural electric co-ops that will lead to increased utility bills for many Colorado families and businesses. That legislation was just the latest effort to impose costly, ideologically driven green energy mandates on utility companies.

That can’t help but hurt Colorado’s business climate and competitiveness – not to mention Coloradans themselves. And he’s now the most prominent supporter of a nearly $1 billion per year tax hike on the ballot this fall. The governor’s billion dollar tax hike will punish the middle class, raising rates by as much as 27 percent, all to support a largely reform-resistant public school establishment that isn’t giving parents good value for the tax dollars they’re spending now.

And those are just exhibits 1 and 2 in the case against the former centrist. Hickenlooper also endorses a vast new expansion of our Medicaid program, as part of Obamacare, without explaining how he intends to pay for it in the long run. You see, while the federal government is providing funding for the first three years, Colorado taxpayers will be on the hook for the enormous $858 million cost of expanding the state Medicaid program. The governor couldn’t muster even a single veto during the 2013 legislative session, as bad bill after bad bill emerged from a statehouse in which majority status bred a certain arrogance and extremism.

Contrast Hickenlooper’s record with what other governors are doing in forward-leaning states.

Former rustbelt relics Indiana and Michigan have announced to the world that they are open again for business by approving Right to Work Laws.

By doing the same, Colorado would send a message that it stands proudly for worker freedom. Indiana is also leading the way with tax reform, passing legislation that brings its income tax rate down to the second lowest in the nation. North Carolina recently enacted historical tax reform that lowers both the personal and corporate income tax rate and completely repeals the estate tax. Wisconsin reduced the rate of each income tax bracket and even eliminated one bracket altogether, as part of a broader tax reform package. And Kansas also jumped aboard the tax reform train this year, by lowering its income tax to 2.3 percent for the first $30,000 of income and 3.9 percent for additional income.

There are plenty of other examples out there but readers get the point. Our supposedly business-friendly governor, although a nice enough guy, simply isn’t taking action to keep Colorado competitive. Meanwhile, the Governor’s attempt to “rebrand” Colorado with a new logo, a progressive tax structure and higher utility rates is simply not working for Colorado families and businesses.

In Gov. Hickenlooper’s nearly three years in office, he has developed somewhat of a reputation for avoiding major policy fights. So I give him credit, I applaud him for finally wading into the debate over higher taxes, and letting Coloradans know he fully supports the new billion dollar tax plan. The problem is that on this issue, like so many others, Gov. Hickenlooper has lost touch.

He has lost the pragmatic centrism that made him so appealing not all that long ago.

Dustin Zvonek is the Colorado State Director of Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a free-market, free-enterprise organization

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