John Hickenlooper: Building on a strong foundation
Only four years ago, the state budget was hamstrung by a $1 billion deficit, and only 2 percent of our general fund went into emergency reserve. When it came to job growth, Colorado ranked 40th in the nation, and the idea of political consensus at the Capitol seemed a futile pursuit.
Now, our state budget has a surplus, with 6.5 percent in our emergency reserve. When it comes to job growth, we have gone from 40th to fourth in the nation. One respected analysis rates Colorado the No. 1 fastest-growing economy in the nation. Our statewide economy has generated 210,000 new jobs. As far as political consensus, our past four state budgets have been balanced and passed with bipartisan support.
Despite devastating fires and a historic flood — despite 13 federally declared disasters — we have not merely survived; overall, our state has thrived.
Statewide unemployment is down from a Great Recession high of 9.1 percent to 4.7 percent. The results are even better in Routt County, where unemployment is down to 3 percent.
Thanks to disciplined budgeting, we have been able to increase K-12 education funding by $400 million and higher education funding by $100 million, with $40 million dedicated to student aid. After all, every child, if he or she earns the grades, should have the chance to reach his/her full academic potential.
We’ve advocated tirelessly for our agricultural markets, which employ more than 170,000 Coloradans and account for more than $40 billion in Colorado’s economic activity. Since 2009, our state’s agricultural exports are up more than 90 percent and recently surpassed $2 billion annually. The success of Colorado’s agricultural sector is particularly important for our rural communities hit hard by the recession.
Sticking to our commitment to make Colorado the No. 1 business-friendly state in the nation, we have cut or amended more than 5,000 regulations, but we’ve never lowered our expectations. We have held industry to the highest standards to protect our air and water.
We brokered the toughest frack-fluid disclosure rule in the nation; we made Colorado the first state to directly regulate detection and reduction of methane emissions associated with oil and gas drilling, and we brought together the oil and gas task force. The oil and gas task force, which recently began meeting, will help ensure that as we harness our energy resources and keep our economy robust, we also safeguard our environment and make sure local communities’ concerns are addressed.
Water is the precious key to a productive agricultural sector, outdoor industries and our everyday lives. Every conversation we have about water begins with conservation. And our Water Plan continues to ensure we keep Colorado’s water in Colorado and that it is used in the most strategic manner. Critical to our Water Plan’s success is the fact that it has been shaped by all of Colorado’s 64 counties.
We have the momentum, but we will not rest until every Colorado community feels the benefits of our economic growth. We now have a strong economic foundation, and if we can get here, we can get there.
I’m committed to getting the long-term unemployed back to work.
We will continue to champion the accountability that has made Colorado a national model.
We will continue expanding opportunities in higher education to cultivate workforce-ready graduates who are saddled with less debt when they graduate.
We’ll remain focused on keeping Coloradans safe by continuing to develop our resources so the state can respond quickly and effectively to emergency situations.
We’ll make Colorado the healthiest state in the nation.
Let’s keep moving Colorado up, together.
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Planning efforts to bring the controversial gray wolf back to parts of Colorado’s Western Slope are officially getting underway.