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Hickenlooper’s 1st Game of Chicken

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

When John Hickenlooper decided to run for governor, many pundits wondered aloud how he would handle his first truly political environment, the state Legislature. How would Hickenlooper handle his first major political impasse, especially since he was dealing with a Republican House? Many people thought he would be tested early and in a significant fashion.

As accurate as those pundits were about the new Governor’s first fight coming early, I don’t think many people thought that his first game of chicken was going to be with his own political party.

Hickenlooper presented his very first state budget to the legislature this week and most of the Democrats in the Senate reacted as if the Governor wrapped it in a paper bag and light it on fire before he left it on their porch.

The highlights of the contention are the proposal to cut $332 million from K-12 education funding and the idea of raising our state’s minimum reserve from 2 percent to 4 percent.

While the details can be argued, I think the real game of chicken comes down to raising revenue. Hickenlooper has publicly said that he believes that Coloradans have no appetite for any tax hikes right now. He’s suggested some unpopular cuts, but suggesting a tax hike, in his eyes, would be even less popular.

That’s where some Senate Democrats disagree. Sen. Rollie Heath has announced that he will be putting together a tax increase proposal to present to voters this year. He’s confident that voters want to contribute to a solution instead of seeing more cuts to education.

That’s the game of chicken. Will voters go for a tax hike as a solution to potential cuts to education funding or will they accept education funding cuts as a solution in this economy?

Frankly, my money is on Hickenlooper on this one.

No one likes the idea of seeing less money going to teaching elementary school kids. But let’s be honest here, education funding cuts are felt by teachers and administrators much more than the students. And let’s continue the honesty by admitting cutting education funding means directly hurting members of the teachers’ union.

Hickenlooper would rather anger powerful teachers’ unions than anger even more powerful voters. Some Senate Democrats would rather appeal to voters for a tax increase than to accept that they must anger a powerful union that helped them keep their Senate majority.

Here are the two upsides of Hickenlooper’s position:

If he’s right, he will be inoculated from being labeled a Democrat that wants to raise taxes and likely not be hurt in four years if his party is punished at the polls for suggesting a tax hike.

If he’s wrong, the state will have more money to spend on education and Hickenlooper still comes out smelling pretty good, because it’s not likely that the teachers’ unions, although angry, would support a primary run at him in 2014.

The two problems with the Senate Democrats’ position is that if they are right, they’ll have more money to spend but will still have to convince higher taxes were a good thing when they go to be re-elected. If the increased funding doesn’t bring better results, the increase will seem for naught.

If Senate Democrats are wrong and taxpayers are not in the mood for a tax hike, they will hand Republicans a weapon of mass destruction to use against them in the election, and they will give Hickenlooper the biggest, “I told you so” moment in the history of Colorado politics. If Senate Democrats are wrong about this one, they will have no ammunition for fighting Hickenlooper on other issues, and he will know it.

Games of political chicken are unpredictable. Frankly, a lot of wiggling might happen before either participant decides they have to veer off the road. Maybe Hickenlooper went for a lot of cuts knowing he would have to compromise. Maybe Senate Dems will poll the tax hike idea and back off.

The only sure thing is that there is one group of bystanders watching this game of chicken and enjoying every minute of it. I believe House Republicans are going to sit back and enjoy this as long as they can. They know that it’s only a matter of time until it’s their turn in the gauntlet. Until then, they’ll likely make some popcorn and enjoy the show.

About The Blogger

– Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

  • Kim Rasmussen

    Bad idea Hick. Isn’t Colorado already ranked near the bottom in education spending?
    This is our future we are talking about!

  • Sandy

    This is kind of what Ritter did the first thing when he picked a fight with the unions. It won him disgust, trouble and one term. Think Wisconsin!

  • John

    You know as I read these articles I can’t help but wonder why everybody is so down on unions?
    Do you folks realize that The United States of America is a union?
    Well we used to be anyway, now we are more like the divided states of America.
    The south wanted to seced from the union and caused a civil war.
    Wht did the south want to secede?
    Because they wanted to be aqble to mistreat people for their own personal financial gain, we called it slavery.
    While some unions need to clean up their act (which they are) most of them serve a valuable purpose of balance between labor and management.
    For those of you out their collecting Davis Bacon wages stop and think where that came from.
    Unions were created for a reason and like anything else have their upsides and downslides.
    How well will we fare when all you union bashing people eliminate them and everyone can work at Wal Mart working conditions.
    LAdies your boss should not be able to fire you for a maternity leave, is that what you want?
    Men do you want to work 60 hours a week for $10.00 per hour take it or leave it?
    All employers would not do that to people but many would and then the trend would grow.
    In order for business to be successful labor and management need to work together and treat each other fairly.
    For those of you stupid enough to blame a teachers union for the faltering education system we have i think you better admit to yourself what the real problem is.
    The problems with education start at home not with the teachers union.
    I would think twice before I ramrod unions out of existence, it will come back to bite your paycheck one way or another even if you are not a union member.
    It is the unions that usually help establish fair pay, get rid of all of them and you will quickly see many wages plunge.
    Look around you and see what’s happening, who is hurting here the average working family of the Ceo’s????
    You don’t want a teacher to make $40,000.00 a year but you will spend $$$ to watch Albert Pujos demand 300 million dollars to play baseball.
    And no that is not the players unions fault.
    Look at the banking crisis, the stock market escapades, the pork barrel government projects.
    We are talking billions of dollars and some of you want to take away a working persons right to have a fair wage.
    The entire economic collapse must be the fault of the unions right???
    Unbelievable how stupid some of you are.

    • Fred

      John, you are so wrong about the South. Some states in the North did not release their slaves until 1901.
      History books, the media, the school systems, etc abound in falsehoods
      and inaccuracies of Confederate and Southern history. This fact sheet
      will help to clarify and dispell some of these rampant inaccuracies.
      MYTH – The War of 1861 – 1865 was fought over slavery.
      FACT – Terribly untrue. The North fought the war over money. Plain and simple. When the South started Secession, Lincoln was asked, “Why not let the South go in peace?” To which he replied, “I can’t let them go. Who would pay for the government?” Sensing total financial ruin for the North, Lincoln waged war on the South. The South fought the War to repel Northern aggression and invasion.
      MYTH – Only Southerners owned slaves.
      FACT – Entirely untrue. Many Northern civilians owned slaves. Prior to, during and even after the War Of Northern Aggression.
      Surprisingly, to many history impaired individuals, most Union Generals and staff had slaves to serve them! William T. Sherman had many slaves that served him until well after the war was over and did not free them until late in 1865.
      U.S. Grant also had several slaves, who were only freed after the 13th amendment in December of 1865. When asked why he didn’t free his slaves earlier, Grant stated “Good help is so hard to come by these days.”
      Contrarily, Confederate General Robert E. Lee freed his slaves (which he never purchased – they were inherited) in 1862!!! Lee freed his slaves several years before the war was over, and considerably earlier than his Northern counterparts. And during the fierce early days of the war when the South was obliterating the Yankee armies!
      Lastly, and most importantly, why did NORTHERN States outlaw slavery only AFTER the war was over? The so-called “Emancipation Proclamation” of Lincoln only gave freedom to slaves in the SOUTH! NOT in the North! This pecksniffery even went so far as to find the state of Delaware rejecting the 13th Amendment in December of 1865 and did not ratify it (13th Amendment / free the slaves) until 1901!

      I can see you failed history growing up.

      • mark

        Clueless doesnt beingto decribe it.

        Where you got this idiot information that “the North” didn’t relsearse it’s slaves, is beyond me. That’s like saying your mother didn’t giver birth till Moses found her on Noah’s ark. It’s that insane.

        Lincoln’s Emancipation proclamation freed the slaves in all areas that Lincoln ‘s proclamation could — in areas under martial law. Since the North and borders states were not under martial law, an order from Lincoln could not possibly work there.

        But Lincoln was working on the 13th AMendment — and got it passed. And of course, he was kicking Southern behind in the war. Everything Lincoln didwas about kicking Southern asp, and ending slavery.

        Go read Frederick Douglass about it — he was there. See what Douglass said about Lincoln, his Emancipation Proclamation, and the 13th Amendment and the Civil War. In other words, learn from someone who knows.

        And you clearlly dont.t

  • Megan

    I agree with Kim, Colorado is at the bottom of the heap. I think you are off base when you say that cutting education won’t impact students. Students will suffer because classroom sizes will increase and instruction will be less effective. So much for test scores. They’re bad already and they will only get worse. I think it’s sad that Colorado recruits so much of its workforce from outside of the state, when it could be investing in young people in this state. That tells me that Colorado doesn’t care about it’s natives.

  • Bren

    Well said Dominic.

  • Tommy Crist

    Go Hick. You reall need to cut more from k12. Also if you would kick the union and their overpaid and underworked thugs you could save a wad of cash.

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