Hickenlooper: Budget cuts unavoidable | SkyHiNews.com

Hickenlooper: Budget cuts unavoidable

Heather McGregor
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Kelley Cox / Post IndependentGov. John Hickenlooper arrived in Glenwood Springs on Thursday as part of his Bottom-Up Economic Development Plan tour. His local visit included meetings with the Colorado River Water Conservation District board of directors, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent editorial board and a luncheon with 65 community business and government leaders hosted by the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The state government is running on cash reserves of just 2 percent, said Gov. John Hickenlooper, and the recession is forcing budget cuts that “most people never dreamed we’d see.”

“The cuts we are making to K-12 education are not good, but I don’t see a single other choice there,” Hickenlooper told an audience of 65 business and government leaders Thursday in Glenwood Springs.

Budget cuts have already taken the higher education system down so far that the next step would be to close some community colleges, the governor said. And too many people are still unemployed or struggling financially to make a tax increase viable.

“The only solution is to be more pro-business,” he told the audience.

“We can be pro-business and still balance our quality of life and maintain high ethical standards. As we create a pro-business state, we can also be pro-community, pro-neighborhood and pro-environment,” Hickenlooper said.

The new governor spoke at a luncheon hosted by the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association and held at a new meeting room in the Hotel Denver. It is part of his statewide swing to gather ideas for “Bottom-Up Economic Development.”

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The effort will result in 14 regional reports to be completed by May 15, with a statewide report to be published soon after that.

Those attending the luncheon had a few ideas for ways to boost Colorado’s economy, while others raised questions about school vouchers, gas drilling and a Grand Avenue bypass.

Hickenlooper said he is trying to get people all over Colorado to think about the kind of economic development they’d want to see in the community, and to suggest ways for city and county governments to assist.

He raised three ideas for getting started:

• Improve broadband capacity so all communities have access to high-speed Internet service.

• Provide better access to capital for businesses seeking to borrow money for growth.

• Tap the expertise of senior executives who have retired to help small businesses get started or grow.

Hickenlooper also told the story of his early career as a petroleum geologist, prior to his success with the Wynkoop Brewery in Denver. The story came in the context of his talking about school budget cuts and teacher layoffs.

The governor said he thought he was a good geologist, but he couldn’t get hired again after getting laid off from his first professional job. But within months after opening the brewery, he realized he was far better at the restaurant business than he ever would have been as a geologist.

“Everybody deserves the chance to be pushed into something they can be good at,” Hickenlooper said. And he noted that some of the best improvements in his business have come during tight times.

“When our business was struggling, that’s when we had our best ideas. With education, we have to force ourselves to come up with fresh ideas and how to redeploy our resources,” he said.

Governor meets with Western Slope water leaders

Western Slope water leaders who are negotiating a “global” water agreement for Colorado met Thursday with Gov. John Hickenlooper, who agreed with their view that water is a statewide resource.

“There’s a legitimate argument to say it’s in the best interests of Denver to use as little water as possible, and to keep every drop we can in the river,” Hickenlooper told members of the Colorado River District board.

Hickenlooper, the former mayor of Denver, said he has received calls from Denver residents with large lawns who complain that conservation efforts by Denver Water have forced their water bills up by thousands of dollars a year.

“They’re irate, and they tell me Denver has the senior water rights, and ask why they have to cut their use,” Hickenlooper said.

“My response is that legally it is Denver’s water, but it’s Colorado’s water, too. You know, what makes Denver special and unique is because it’s in Colorado. And part of what makes Denver ‘Denver’ is the Western Slope economy – its ski resorts, the ranches and fruit orchards – and the Eastern Plains,” the governor said.

So he tells Denver constituents that key values of the city are enhanced by preserving the natural beauty of the whole state, including healthy rivers – which means limiting new transmountain water diversions.

River District board members thanked Hickenlooper for his recent appointments to the Denver Water board, who have shown themselves to be good listeners on Western Slope concerns and to be firmly committed to finding more ways to conserve water.

That’s important because so much Western Slope water is already diverted each year across the Continental Divide to farms and cities on the Front Range.

The River District, Denver Water, Summit County, Grand County and water interests in Eagle County are negotiating what is being called a “global agreement” on those transmountain diversions and related water management.

“We appreciate your appointments to Denver Water, and we are looking forward to the rollout of the agreement,” said Grand County Commissioner James Newberry. He said the agreement should be ready for release in late April.

Meanwhile, the River District is also involved with negotiations on the Shoshone hydroelectric power plant, which holds a critical senior water right for the Colorado River that protects river flows above and below Glenwood Canyon. The plant and the water right are owned by Xcel Energy.

River District Board President Tom Sharp, of Steamboat Springs, asked Hickenlooper for help in getting Xcel involved in the discussions aimed at protecting the Shoshone water right.

“Shoshone is a small drop in their bucket,” Hickenlooper said. “They’ve got no reason not to do it.”

“Or, they’ve got no reason to do it,” Sharp replied.

“Oh, but if they do, they will get to the top of my ‘Most Cherished Persons’ list,” Hickenlooper said.

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