DALLAS — Newly inaugurated Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper issued three executive orders designed to improve the economy Tuesday as the evenly divided General Assembly prepared to open its 2011 legislative session.
Hickenlooper, a Democrat, resigned his position as mayor of Denver, then walked from the City and County Building across Civic Center Park to the steps of the state capitol for his swearing-in as governor. The new session starts Wednesday.
Hickenlooper succeeds another Democratic governor, Bill Ritter, who was present for the ceremony on a frigid, snowy morning.
“It is important that on our first day in office we demonstrate that jobs and economic development are at the top of the state’s priority list,” Hickenlooper said. “Today’s executive orders are reflective of this commitment and of our promise to make government more efficient, effective, and elegant.”
The first order calls for Colorado’s 64 counties “to chart a course for economic revival from the bottom up.” Hickenlooper is expected to begin a four-day trip across the state Friday to kick-start the program.
The second order creates a governor’s trade and tourism ambassador program. The third aims to streamline the state’s relationship with its counties.
With a $1.15 billion shortfall anticipated in fiscal 2011-2012, which begins July 1, lawmakers are trying to protect funding for public schools while cutting spending for higher education.
“Above all, we will focus on education as the social bedrock for the hopes and dreams of our children and the quality of their jobs,” Hickenlooper said.
The new governor and the legislature face restrictions on new revenue under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, but escaped a proposed ban on all state borrowing. Amendment 61 was placed on the ballot through voter initiative and defeated last November.
In 1992, voters passed the TABOR amendment, which was backed by some of the same groups that supported Amendment 61. It limits state revenue and spending to the rate of population growth plus inflation.
When tax revenues decline, the constitutional growth limit going forward is applied to the lower revenue base. Any annual tax revenue that exceeds the constitutional limit must be refunded in the following year unless voters allow the government to keep them.
Colorado faced severe revenue declines in fiscal 2002 and 2003 and the revenue available for appropriation in the subsequent years was severely limited by TABOR.
Voters suspended the growth limit on revenue in November 2005 and allowed the state to retain revenues in excess of the TABOR limit for the period of July 1, 2005, through June 30, 2010, to providing Colorado with some much-needed fiscal relief.
Officials estimate that the state retained more than $5 billion in revenue during the enacted period. The excess monies were used to fund health care, higher education spending and public employee retirement plans.
The return of the growth limit and the end of federal stimulus initiatives will further pressure Colorado’s ability to achieve structural balance.