DENVER (AP) – Colorado’s term-limited governor, Democrat John Hickenlooper, delivered his final state of the state address to the Legislature on Thursday.
The Democrat’s address on Thursday came one week after he vigorously defended Colorado’s marijuana experiment after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued new pot guidance to federal law enforcement.
Hickenlooper reluctantly accepted voters’ decision in 2012 to create the nation’s first recreational pot industry. But he has insisted it be tightly regulated. That regulatory framework has become a highlight of his administration.
The former Denver mayor was elected in 2010 and narrowly defeated former Rep. Bob Beauprez in 2014’s GOP-dominant election.
Hickenlooper says Colorado’s economy has advanced powerfully since he took office in 2011.
Back then, he said in his speech, Colorado ranked 26th in unemployment and 40th in job growth among U.S. states.
He says the economy was in disarray and the worst year for job seekers in generations had just ended.
He says regulatory reform and an open-for-business attitude have made Colorado “one of the best places for business in America.”
Hickenlooper says that, by nearly every measure, Colorado is perhaps stronger than at any point in its history. But he warned lawmakers that there’s a lot to do in 2018.
He says his priorities include shoring up the public employees’ pension fund, legislation to safely cap so-called orphan oil and gas wells that can pose a danger of explosion, attacking the opioid epidemic and rural development.
Hickenlooper also says he wants action to fix a constitutional measure, known as the Gallagher Amendment, that restricts personal property tax collections and harms rural communities’ ability to pay for essential services.
Hickenlooper drew a standing ovation in an address to lawmakers by calling for an end to sexual harassment.
Legislative leaders are formally reviewing the Capitol’s workplace harassment policy following harassment allegations against a handful of lawmakers.
Hickenlooper says it’s past time for Washington lawmakers to stop their efforts to eliminate the Affordable Care Act.
Hickenlooper has argued for fixing the act — not repeal.
He said the act has cut the number of uninsured Coloradans in half.
He says the security of having health care promotes economic development.
He told lawmakers that “We need our friends in Washington to finally move past the tired fight over the Affordable Care Act.”
Hickenlooper says his administration’s promotion of green energy must continue — for the sake of Colorado’s economic future.
He praised plans by Xcel Energy to close two coal-powered electricity plants in Pueblo.
He told lawmakers focusing on renewable energy will create jobs.
He said he wasn’t sure what critics don’t like — the cleaner air or the lower utility bills. Many Republican lawmakers have strived to protect a struggling coal industry.
Hickenlooper says Colorado voters must be given the chance to decide how to fund the state’s roads.
He said recent progress in funding highways is well-needed — but not enough.
Democrats have long sought to ask voters to raise taxes to pay for an estimated $9 billion backlog in road repairs — not to mention billions of dollars more in anticipated highway needs. Republicans insist issuing bonds, not raising taxes, is the way to go.
The governor noted that Colorado hasn’t raised its 22 cents-a-gallon gasoline tax in about 25 years. The tax helps fund roads.
He says the state has been driving “on a flat tire for about a quarter of a century.”
The governor, whose second term ends next year, ended his speech with a personal catchphrase, “Giddy Up”, to sustained applause from both sides of the aisle.
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