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Ideas emerging from TBD Colorado

PUEBLO – Education and state constitutional issues are emerging as the top two areas of concern for those participating in the TBD Colorado initiative launched earlier this year by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Word cloud of discussion topics at a TBA Colorado public meeting.
Word cloud of discussion topics at a recent TBD Colorado meeting.

The first wave of multi-regional citizen summits for TBD Colorado – TBD stands for To Be Determined – was held in three locations around the state late last week, and some issues are rising to the top.

”For anybody who has been paying attention, those two (education and the constitution) have been intertwined for some time,” said participant Dave Dill of Pueblo.

He noted, “The amount of funds that the state has, that it can allocate to something, was greatly reduced by” such provisions as the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which limits state and local revenues, and the Gallagher Amendment, which lays out rules for property taxes. The two are widely considered to create conflicts that restrict state government in budgeting.

People who participated in recent TBD meetings across the state were offered a menu of six broad issues and were asked to select which two Colorado should focus on in the next two years. Those issues are education, health, state budget, state workforce, transportation and the constitution.

The priorities identified by nearly 1,400 respondents were:

  • Education – 28.5 percent
  • Constitutional issues – 23.3 percent
  • State budget – 22.2 percent
  • Health – 13.7 percent
  • Transportation – 8.4 percent
  • State workforce – 1.6 percent

Another 2.24 percent said all six topics were “roughly equal” in importance.

“I think to me the most imperative thing to come out of this is to change, not just to repeal TABOR. I don’t know that that would be successful,” said Lee Merkel of Pueblo, a regional manager for the state Department of Local Affairs and TBD participant.

Participants also were polled on 10 other specific policy proposals. Here’s how opinion on some of those sorted out:

  • Creation of a uniform statewide property tax for schools. – 16.5 percent
  • Make preschool and full-day kindergarten universally available – 15.5 percent
  • Maintaining the transportation system and restoring the state income tax to pre-1999 levels – both at 11.52 percent
  • Providing healthy food choices for students – 6.96 percent
  • Ensuring rural road safety and reliability – 6.16 percent
  • Providing physical education in schools – 6.01 percent

At the Pueblo session last Saturday, participants were asked whether they strongly agreed, agreed, were neutral, disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, “I support a constitutional convention.”

Two thirds said they strongly agreed, and another 17 percent said they agreed.

One feature of the June regional summits is use of a computer program that called “Backseat Budgeter,” which included the TBD policy options in an interactive simulation of the state budget.

Using laptops at circular tables where they sat in small groups, participants were asked to make choices using TBD policy options in the context of their potential impact on the state budget.

The program makes it possible for participants to instantaneously see what effects each choice would have on the overall budget and its implications for the constitution.

Summits were held last weekend in Pueblo, Durango and Greeley, drawing about 130 people total.

A second wave of summits is slated for June 23 in Denver, Colorado Springs and Greeley. Registration remains open for the Colorado Springs and Greeley sessions, but the Denver regional meeting is already at capacity.

“At the end of June, we will have held over 60 regional meetings, six multi-region summits, and from that we will have a list of priority options people think are really important to move forward on,” said TBD executive director Kae Rader

“And we’ll have six different state budgets, one for each summit, created by those participants,” he added

Many TBD participants appear to be enjoying the role of citizen policy maker, albeit with some reservations.

“I’m very much in favor of the process, but I’m just real curious about how it might be utilized‚” said Dill.

Following TBD advisory committee reviews set for July 24 and Nov. 17, a final report based on the June summits will go to Hickenlooper, the General Assembly and other state officials in December.

Although initiated by Hickenlooper, the TBD effort is privately funded. The effort is similar to smaller-scale community input processes the administration used to develop economic development and early children policy proposals.

Reporter Charlie Brennan wrote this story for EdNews’ partner, the I-News Network.

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