What do you believe are the top five issues facing Colorado in the coming decade?
The top five issues all boil down to a single concern: managing our growth. Our economic growth has been a blessing, but we need to do a better job of managing it so the cost of living and quality of life do not deteriorate. Transportation, attainable housing, health care, education and water are the top issues we need to address to properly manage our growth.
Solving our transportation issues is critical to our economic future. Moreover, it can be accomplished by using revenue sources already at the state’s disposal and by demanding more efficiency and fiscal responsibility from our state government and CDOT. We need to make a long-term commitment to Colorado’s infrastructure if we are going to close the $9 billion gap since building and maintaining our roads ensures that businesses can reliably get their goods to market and improves quality of life. We want to help Coloradans spend time with their families and aren’t stuck spending countless hours stuck in traffic.
The cost of housing has been a major driver in the rising cost of living in our state, particularly in the Denver-metro area. We need to re-invigorate the construction of new homes to fix the supply gap and allow every Coloradan to attain their own American dream of owning a home. In addition to housing, health care costs have been increasing at an unsustainable rate. In some parts of the state, health care has even outpaced housing. As a result, we are seeing places where many people are paying more for their health insurance than for their mortgages or rent. The Stapleton Administration will work with all stakeholders to find ways to control these costs, while expanding access to association plans, shorter-term plans, and catastrophic coverage. Let me be clear, any solution must maintain protections for those with pre-existing conditions and allowing young people to stay on their parents plans until 26.
As the father of three school age children, investing in our children is not only a moral necessity, but key to building a better future for all Coloradans. Our children are our future, and their future relies on their education. We must invest in a functional education system. Colorado’s current education model is broken and we must re-structure our school finance system to direct more dollars into the classroom. From 2011 to 2017, student population grew by 6.3%, the number of teachers grew by 8.1%, and the number of administrators grew by 34.6%. We must reign in these out-of-control administrative costs and reallocate our tax dollars back into teacher pay. Likewise, by getting these funds back into the classroom, we can lower student-teacher ratios and invest in more technology for our students to prepare them for a 21st century economy.
Water is the lifeblood of our state and a key part of economic development. We need to fund and implement the Colorado water plan to sustain future growth for our cities, our agricultural communities, and our outdoor recreation industry.
How do you see land and water conservation playing a role in helping to resolve those issues?
Land and water conservation are critical to the future of our state. Through the groundbreaking work at Colorado State University and innovators in our agricultural community, we have become the ‘silicon valley of agriculture.’ Going forward, we must build on this work to continue our efforts in water conservation for agricultural users and expand alternative transfer mechanisms to mitigate the devastating effects of ‘buy-and-dry’ practices. Land conservation protects our natural environment and sustains our economic growth. Studies have shown that for every dollar invested in land conservation there is a $4 - $10 return. Land and water conservation are foundational to preserving our western way of life, keeping Colorado the place we all want to live and raise our families.
Where will conservation (land and water) fit within your priority issues for governing Colorado?
Land and water conservation are critical to the future of our state and will be a top priority of my administration. They are integral parts of the Colorado way of life, and what makes our state the envy of the nation. Protecting land and water for Colorado starts with strong leadership from the top. I will continue to be a strong advocate for these causes and work with the legislature to pass supportive policies.
Do you support the continuation of Colorado’s conservation easement tax credit program?
If no, explain why.
I support the continuation of Colorado’s conservation easement tax credit program as it is a key component of our land conservation efforts. This tax credit program recognizes, and rewards, the public benefit of donating a conservation easement (e.g., a permanent restriction on a piece of land that is donated or sold by the landowner and protects certain natural features). These investments in land conservation have resulted in $13.7 billion in benefits for Coloradans; such as protection of wildlife habitat, expansion of recreation opportunities, maintenance of scenic beauty, and thriving rural economies and food production. A recent Colorado State University study found that every dollar invested in conservation easements yields up to 12 dollars of public benefits for Coloradans. I support this tax credit program as it has the capacity to encourage and accelerate the conservation of high-priority properties, protecting natural resources, habitat, and wildlife migration corridor.
Do you support the continuation of Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO)? If not, please explain your stance.
Great Outdoors Colorado is a fantastic program that is critical to growing outdoor recreation economy and for fostering a conservation ethic and appreciation of the outdoors for future generations. Playing outside is an integral part of a child’s development. Research has shown children who play outside are healthier, more creative, less aggressive, less stressed, and have reduced ADHD symptoms. Today’s kids, though, spend less than 10 minutes per day outside in unstructured play. Put differently, we’re raising a generation of kids with no connection to nature, who will become adults who do not cherish the things that make Colorado such a great place. I support the Generation Wild program from the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) that reconnects kids with nature and encourages them to experience the incredible things right outside the front door with a list of 100 things to do before you’re 12. Because kids grow better outside.
Would you support redirecting all or a portion of lottery funds to pay for top Colorado priorities (i.e. education, homelessness, veterans’ issues)?
If yes, please explain why and where you would look to redirect the funds.
I believe the current distribution of Colorado lottery funds is appropriate and would not look to re-direct these funds away from GOCO or CO Parks and Wildlife (CPW).
What is your overall vision for land and water conservation in Colorado?
Our land and water conservation efforts are critical to our economic future and western way of life. These efforts are inextricably linked with proper forest management. Healthy forests are vital to ensuring healthy watersheds. On the government side, I would look to preserve and promote the work of the Office of Outdoor Recreation, the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Group, and CPW. In addition, I would continue to build on the partnership with groups like the Nature Conservancy, the Colorado Water Congress, the Colorado River Initiative, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, the Trust for Public Lands, Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts, and many others. Together we can bring together all of the relevant stakeholder to create collaborative policies to conserve our land and water. Through an open dialogue, and partnership between public and private entities, we can create lasting outcomes for our citizens and protect our natural lands and water.
What are your goals around land and water conservation?
My goals for water conservation are to ensure we have an abundant supply of water to properly manage growth in our cities, agricultural production, as well as our outdoor recreation industry. For our land, we need to protect and preserve our public lands and create safeguards against ‘buy and dry’ that has crushed communities, particularly in southern Colorado. We should continue to invest in conservation easements, implement and fund the Colorado Water Plan, and build on our reputation as the Silicon Valley of agriculture. Through this work, we can promote water conservation. Continuing to properly fund GOCO will protect and promote our lands. My goals are to make sure that in my administration we do not lose any ground on the success we have made in the last few decades and will continue to build on this momentum.
What role does private land conservation play in your overall vision for land and water conservation?
Private land conservation is an important part of the conversation. We need to build off of Governor Hickenlooper’s efforts to engage private entities in conservation efforts. The state should continue to work collaboratively with these groups and act as a catalyst for private land conservation through conservation easements. Public access easements, when private landowners are willing partners, are also important. My administration will be supportive of both private property rights and promoting access.
Do you support the Colorado Water Plan? If so, what will you do to implement? If not, please explain why?
I support funding and implementing many of the polices laid out in the Colorado Water Plan. By 2050, Colorado’s population is expected to grow to 8.5 million people. As such, we need to take the proactive steps to secure reliable water supplies in order to sustain municipal and agricultural development. All this must be done in a responsible way that also promotes outdoor recreation and environmental preservation. We can augment severance tax money with general fund dollars to stabilize the revenues needed to properly fund the Colorado Water Plan. In addition, we must build out our storage capacity. John Stulp has done a fantastic job bringing stakeholders together as the state’s water czar. My administration will continue this practice, making sure our water policies are overseen by a dedicated, cabinet level appointment. In addition, we will look at potential ways to expand this official’s authority to give them greater executive power to implement the plan.
What characteristics will you look for in selecting cabinet members? Specifically cabinet members who have a direct role in shaping conservation policy (Executive Director of Natural Resources, Commissioner of Agriculture, Executive Director of the Department of Regulatory Agencies, etc.)
I will look to appoint cabinet members with the utmost integrity and highest qualifications directly related to their office. All cabinet members involved in shaping conservation policy should have a direct personal and professional connection to our land and water. I will use my appointments as an opportunity to bring in the best and brightest from across the public, private and non-profit sectors to advise me personally and better direct my administration’s platform and policies.
Do you support the continuation of the office of outdoor recreation? If no, why?
I support the continuation of the office of outdoor recreation and will build on the great work this office has done under Governor Hickenlooper’s leadership. Colorado will continue to be a thriving hub of the outdoor recreation economy and a destination to enjoy the outdoors for all Americans. To maintain this, it is necessary that we have a dedicated office to direct polices and work with our citizens.
During our conversation on August 16, you indicated that public-private partnerships are one of the ways that Colorado could achieve its land and water conservation goals. Are there specific types of partnerships that you’d like to explore?
By nature, every public-private partnership will be different and must be worked out through negotiations between the relevant partners. Alternative transfer mechanisms (ATMs) and water banking are both areas that have a lot of potential for innovation in water conservation efforts. The Colorado Springs water sharing agreement with Lower Arkansas Water Management Association (LAWMA) is a good example of a public-private partnership that could be a model for other areas to boost municipal use in certain years, and refill reservoirs for agricultural use in others. As with any other business, you must protect and hedge against bad actors and I believe pilot projects and conditional agreements with an option of permanency after a trial period are a good method of building trust and expanding the reach of ATMs. What works can be scaled and even spread to other areas and what doesn’t can be rolled back.
During our conversation on August 16, you indicated that Colorado needs to manage its population growth in a sustainable way. What specific ideas do you have to accomplish this?
We must build out our state infrastructure to keep up with population growth. This applies to transportation infrastructure, water storage, and our housing supply. We need to build out capacity on our roads, so businesses can reliably transport goods and folks can get to and from work without spending hours idling in traffic. For transportation, I will push for greater line-item transparency in CDOT’s budget to create accountability for how our dollars are spent. A huge area of waste is the rotating door between former CDOT employees and private contractors. I will look to implement non-compete policies to help ensure contracts are properly bid out and taxpayer dollar are not getting directed to sweetheart deals for former state employees fresh out of CDOT. There needs to be an appropriate period between working for the state and winning a lucrative contract from the state. Regarding water, we need to build out more storage capacity. Historically, a major hurdle has been the permitting process and bureaucratic delays between competing agencies, particularly at the federal level. On a state level, I will work to streamline this process and designate lead agencies whenever there is multiple claim jurisdiction. Finally, in terms of housing, we need to cut regulations and red tape to address our housing shortage. By tackling the lingering effects of the construction defects laws, we can reinvigorate the building of new housing to increase supply and reduce costs.
During our conversation on August 16, you indicated that you would be interested in convening a group to explore new revenue sources for water conservation in Colorado. What specific ideas do you have for what those sources could be and who the partners around the table should be?
The State Budget Director, along with members of the Joint Budget Committee and the Water Czar, should create a working group to explore funding the water plan. Severance tax is still an integral part of funding water initiatives across the state and will remain a key part of the funding under my administration. However, because these severance revenues are volatile, we need to find other stable sources of revenue from the general fund to supplement them. The state is estimated to bring in over $4 billion over 7 years from the federal tax cuts and we should appropriate some of these funds to implement the Water Plan. In addition, we are open to exploring a new revenue source, such as approved taxes from legalized sports gambling to be put into a fund to address our larger infrastructure goals to support these efforts.