By Gene Davis, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper is using a move from the Republican playbook by not taking an immediate stance on a controversial set of bills that would eliminate a series of tax exemptions and credits for a variety of Colorado goods, according to one political analyst.
Meanwhile, Hickenlooper’s campaign manager Mike Melanson said the mayor “understands and supports the important work lawmakers are doing at the state Capitol,” and that commenting on pending legislation doesn’t make that job any simpler or more effective.
Aaron Harber, a Denver Daily News columnist and political expert with a background in finance, believes the public will likely grant the popular Denver mayor, who announced his candidacy for governor on Jan. 12, a grace period as he gets up to speed on the state budget and potential impacts of the proposed tax hikes. But he does believe that Hickenlooper at some point will state his position before the election on the Democrat supported budget-balancing plan that would eliminate more than 11 tax credits and exemptions.
Republicans wasted no time in blasting Hickenlooper for not taking an immediate stance. A spokesman for Scott McInnis — Hickenlooper’s Republican rival in the governor race — said the tax exemption issue highlights the difference between the two candidates. McInnis has come out in force against getting rid of the tax hikes while Hickenlooper “can’t make up his mind.”
“I don’t think the people will go for that,” said McInnis spokesman Josh Green.
But as Bobby Clark of the liberal advocacy group ProgressNow Colorado pointed out, McInnis, who announced his candidacy last May, declined in December to comment on specific budget-balancing measures because he said the budget that he might receive as governor in January 2011 would likely be drastically different than what lawmakers were currently working on.
“We’re still nearly a year out form the election — it’s been one of the earliest cycles in memory — Scott naturally is not going to come out with a detailed plan for the budget, and frankly, as the legislative session goes forward, the budget is going to change and everything’s going to change itself,” said Green in December.
When asked on Friday about the similarities between McInnis declining to provide budget balancing specifics in December and Hickenlooper declining to weigh in on the tax issue last week, Green acknowledged that Hickenlooper just entered the race and is “getting in there and seeing what is going on and everything else.” But he added that Hickenlooper is being asked a question about his basic philosophy on a proposal to levy the sales tax on selected goods, not for specifics on his plan to balance the budget.
“He is either for tax increases or against tax increases,” said Green.
Regardless of Hickenlooper’s stance, Harber said that the Republicans’ message of opposing tax increases and the elimination of tax exemptions is resonating with voters. He believes that future political races in Colorado will likely depend on the solutions that Republicans offer to the budget crisis.
On Thursday, Republican senators introduced their alternative budget-balancing plan that includes a .25-percent reduction in state payroll spending for the current fiscal year, and an across-the-board 4.4-percent reduction for next fiscal year.
Republican senators say their bill would “stave off job-killing, recovery-slowing tax increases,” while Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer said the bill looks like something the lawmakers put together on the back of a cocktail napkin without much thought.
Because Democrats are in control of the Colorado House, Senate, and governorship, Harber thinks that Republicans can get away with not providing expansive details on their plan, at least for now.
“There’s a tremendous political advantage in difficult political times for the Republicans,” he said. “The Democrat strategy is to try and force Republicans to be specific, but just because Democrats are demanding Republicans to be specific, it doesn’t mean Republicans have to be specific.”
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters