By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Children’s advocates hosted a gubernatorial forum yesterday with Democratic candidate Mayor John Hickenlooper and Republican candidate Dan Maes during which the candidates touched upon direct issues related to children, as well as more general, controversial topics.
American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo was invited to the event, but backed out to attend a fundraiser, according to KUSA-TV 9News reporter Adam Schrager who moderated the event, which was held at the Children’s Hospital in Aurora.
Schrager pushed the two candidates to go beyond topics just related to children, forcing the candidates to address such controversial issues as taxes, the state budget, federal funding, health care costs, safety net programs and teacher effectiveness, to name a few.
Both candidates were asked how they feel about raising taxes, specifically for education, but also in general. Neither candidate said they were in favor of a tax increase.
Hickenlooper: “There is no appetite — and I’m not just talking about the rural areas and the eastern plains, I’m talking suburban metro Denver, suburban Fort Collins — there is no appetite to raise taxes right now.”
Maes: “If there are needs for tax increases, that demand is going to have to come from the community that needs that increase, and I believe that anybody who can articulate a rational reason to increase taxes for whatever part of the educational process they see, it ultimately lands in the hands of Colorado voters,” said Maes, stating that he is a fan of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. “If the Colorado voters want more taxes put into K-12, then the voters will say, ‘yes,’ and if they don’t, they will say, ‘no,’ and I support that either way.”
Maes said that even as a fiscal conservative he cannot support two of three anti-tax proposals facing voters on the November ballot. Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 have been dubbed by many as the “Bad 3.” The three proposals aim to drastically cut taxes by reducing government taxing and spending. The ballot initiatives cover vehicles taxes, property tax mill levies and government debt. Critics say the proposals will cripple government’s ability to provide core public services.
Maes did say that he is a supporter of Amendment 60, which would reverse a measure that froze property tax mill levies in local school districts. The property tax freeze was pushed by Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, challenged, and then upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court. Maes criticized Democrats for pushing the property tax freeze.
“We were mugged over the last two years,” said Maes. “Gov. Ritter grabbed us in the alley next to the Capitol and two liberal Supreme Court justices stood at one end of the alley, and two liberal Supreme Court justices stood at the other end of the alley and said, ‘Go ahead and roll them, Bill, for all you need.’”
Race to the Top
Both candidates were asked to comment on the state’s recent controversial push for federal education grant dollars known as Race to the Top. Colorado applied in two rounds of the competition, losing in both rounds. In the first round, Colorado was competing for $377 million; the second round was for $175 million.
Hickenlooper expressed “disappointment” for losing the competition, but said the state must not stop trying to find additional resources for education: “We don’t stop,” he said. “We’ll go out and replace that money from, whether it’s foundations or from businesses, it is too important for us to sit back on our hands. We will replace that money and continue those efforts.”
Republicans generally opposed the competition, arguing that it played into the hands of unions and put the state at the mercy of the federal government. Maes echoed some of those thoughts yesterday: “We should not be chasing federal funds and Race to the Top funds — there’s too many strings attached, there’s too many requirements to achieve them. We should be finding our own revenue sources within the state, we should be retaining as much of our revenue in the state rather than sending it to Washington and then trying to get it back from Washington once we sent it to them, and that comes with standing up to Washington and saying, ‘You’re not going to bribe us with funds anymore so we can do things the way you want us to do it.’”
Both candidates, however, acknowledged that the competition likely inspired passage of Senate Bill 191 this year, which created one of the toughest teacher effectiveness laws in the country, requiring teachers to prove their worth in proving that they deserve and should be allowed to retain tenure.
Both candidates were asked how they plan on reducing health care costs, how they feel about a lawsuit by the attorney general’s office seeking to exempt Colorado from federal health reform, and how they feel about a ballot initiative asking voters to exempt Colorado from health care insurance mandates.
On reducing health care costs, Maes suggested that the state participate in a competitive multi-state insurance pool, similar to how people purchase car insurance online.
“I don’t think the government should be playing favorites in what our insurance policy should look like, and I can be very clear that anything that draws down ObamaCare into the State of Colorado, I would absolutely oppose,” said Maes.
Hickenlooper acknowledged that there are aspects of the health care overhaul that he does not approve of, even as a Democrat.
“I’m not sure all of that is what we need,” he said of the more than 2,500 pages of federal legislation. “I’ve already seen a number of examples as I go around the state of people pointing out incentives that are going to get doctors to retire prematurely,” said Hickenlooper.
The Denver mayor, however, said he does not support a multi-state lawsuit Republican Attorney General John Suthers has entered Colorado into that would exempt the state from major portions of the health care overhaul. Hickenlooper said he also does not support a ballot initiative by libertarian Jon Caldara who is seeking to exempt Colorado from the requirement to carry insurance or pay a penalty.
Maes said he supports the lawsuit and Amendment 63, Caldara’s initiative.
Both candidates addressed the state budget, including issues such as funding safety-net programs, K-12 education, early childhood education, and funding Medicaid and the Child Health Plan Plus programs, to name a few budgetary issues discussed.
Maes said government needs to be reduced, and that cuts need to be made to most departments, especially the executive branch.
Hickenlooper spoke of “leverage” and finding the greatest results for the state’s investment.
“How do we begin to prioritize that?” Hickenlooper asked. “Because we’re not going to be able to do everything.”