Governor Hickenlooper Identifies Rural Colorado as a Priority in State of the State Address
By: Kelly Erb, Policy Coordinator
January 2017–Policy Corner
With one eye on the state’s $500 million deficit and the other on upcoming changes in Washington, Governor Hickenlooper and the split General Assembly enter the 2017 legislative session with plenty of uncertainty. Luckily, during his annual State of the State address on January 12, Governor Hickenlooper vowed to make rural Colorado a top priority. Hickenlooper referenced rural Colorado over fifteen times during his address, calling on the state to continue investing rural economies, addressing rural teacher shortages and rural opioid abuse, and trying to find political compromise on the Hospital Provider Fee.
The Hospital Provider Fee divided the state house in the 2016 session, and with an even tighter 2017 state budget, the issue has once again taken center stage. Governor Hickenlooper proposed a $195 million reduction to the HPF fee collection-a net $390 million net reduction in state and federal matching dollars- in order to balance the state budget and avoid TABOR refunds. The issue has pitted education, transportation and healthcare interests against one another for scant state funding. Hickenlooper addressed the provider fee issue optimistically, noting, “Let’s see if we can take a fresh look at the Hospital Provider Fee itself, and see if it can be modified as a vehicle to control costs, to build more transparency and accountability and better serve rural clinics and hospitals.”
Hickenlooper also emphasized adequate broadband access as one of the most important components in advancing rural Colorado communities. “Every school, hospital, clinic and home should have high speed internet. In rural Colorado, only 7 in 10 households have access,” he stated. Hickenlooper commended the Rangely community for being one of the very first rural giga-bit communities and committed to working with industry and civic leaders to identify local solutions to providing broadband. “We’re bullish on partnering with rural economies on every intractable issue: from broadband to job training…to our energy economy and clean air and water.”
Diversifying rural economies was also identified as a strategy for strengthening rural communities. Job training programs, expanding tourism and enticing entrepreneurs are the main ways to diversify rural communities. “We can’t wave a magic wand to diversify the economy throughout the state, but if we work together, we can support growth in any community that wants it. We’re asking to establish a point person on the ground for rural economic development issues to expedite and speed resources to communities that need them,” said Hickenlooper.
Hickenlooper wrapped up his State of the State address with one final nod to rural Colorado, urging legislators and Coloradans alike, “Giddyup. Let’s get to work.”
Governor Hickenlooper’s 2017 State of the State Address, Annotated – Colorado Public Radio
5 players to watch in the 2017 Colorado legislative session – The Denver Post