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Hickenlooper hints TBD will lead to TABOR reform

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DENVER — As the civic leaders taking part on Gov. John Hickenlooper’s long-term effort to address Colorado’s fiscal issues offered a new batch of recommendations Wednesday, the governor himself offered more hints that TBD Colorado will eventually focus on tackling the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights.

Recommendations from an eight-member board of directors of TBD Colorado, or “To Be Determined,” were drawn from months of community engagement with more than 1,200 Coloradans during 70 public meetings across the state.

Hickenlooper, who’s always been a deliberate decision-maker, maintains that his directives will come from the public and is proud of TBD’s bottom-up approach — although it’s increasingly obvious that the group’s ultimate determination will be some kind of constitutional reform.

“When you reach out to the public and give them power, this whole thing of having a constitutional review process, some way of looking at changes to the constitution and getting kind of a deeper sign-off, that was fresh and new and people hadn’t thought of that before,” Hickenlooper said.

TABOR forces voters to approve any tax increase and is a political lightning road in a state that’s been forced to cut spending across the board amidst revenue shortfalls and unable to raise revenue due to TABOR’s central mandate.

Democrats have long pushed for TABOR reform, while Republicans fear that loosening the constitutional amendment will enable lawmakers to spend more freely at taxpayers’ expense.

Hickenlooper, in taking part in the sustained public outreach of TBD and in asserting that the group’s final directive truly is yet to be determined, is aiming to demonstrate wide enough public support for TABOR reform to offer him adequate political cover to undertake an effort that could help define his legacy.

“Clearly people in Colorado embrace and would not back away from the requirement that there be a vote on any tax increase,” Hickenlooper said Wednesday, during a meeting of TBD participants at the Denver Botanic Garden.

“There’s just a limited number of choices. You can either make cuts in one place if you want to get revenue, we can try to reallocate existing resources or we can try to get new resources.

Hickenlooper, who maintained last year that there was no “appetite” for a tax increase amidst an ongoing recession, was asked Wednesday if that’s changed.

“In a number of places, you saw folks who were more aggressive talking about new revenues, although not with a lot of specifics.

“There certainly was an appetite — If we’re going to have an education system that’s not 47th out of 50 [in per pupil funding], we’re going to need to have some new money.”

Hickenlooper, who faces reelection in 2014, hasn’t indicated if he’s likely to work on TBD Colorado’s directives at the end of his first term or at the beginning of a second.