DENVER — Colorado Republican voters have a tough job ahead in deciding who to put on the general election ballot this fall in the Governor’s race.
The party’s top four candidates are split by a hair on most issues — but there are subtle differences.
Wednesday, Cynthia Coffman, Victor Mitchell, Doug Robinson and Walker Stapleton proved that again when they squared off on energy, transportation and business issues at a forum sponsored by the Colorado Business Roundtable forum.
Questions included how the candidates would manage employment growth while still making Colorado an enticing location for new companies, how their economic development principals were different from Gov. John Hickenlooper’s, how they would handle a shortage of skilled labor employees, how they would handle Colorado’s growing transportation pains, and their views on oil and gas versus renewable energy, among others.
All four candidates agreed they don’t support increasing setbacks for oil and gas drilling to 2,500 feet, they don’t believe local governments should have more authority than they currently have over state drilling regulations, they don’t support raising severance taxes to generate funds for the Colorado Water Plan, and they don’t support mandating renewal energy above the 30 percent already mandated.
“Fossil fuels are the most reliable form of energy we have,” Mitchell said. “I ask people all the time who really believe in renewables, ‘If that’s the case, then why do they need the subsidies?’ I don’t think we should have subsidies for (any energy form). We all love clean air and clean water. We all want that for our state, but we have to find the right balance.”
Concerning attracting new employers to the state and an expanding anti-growth sentiment, Coffman said current leadership has not managed the state’s growth well.
“Because of that, people who are seeing their quality of life impacted, want to say no more growth,” Coffman said. “It’s a knee-jerk reaction to traffic, to a high cost of living, to issues with housing being affordable.”
Coffman said the reason some cities and counties are saying no more growth is because there is a disconnect between state and local government.
“You see it other areas,” she said. “We see it in oil and gas regulations. We see it in sanctuary city policies. If you have strong leadership, you work with them to prepare them.”
Mitchell said much of the problem is in 120,000 pages of regulations put in place by Hickenlooper. Mitchell pledges to roll back 100,000 of those pages.
“We’re going to do a top to bottom regulatory review of our whole system,” Mitchell said. “If they are not about public safety, then they should be reformed if not entirely repealed.”
Concerning economic development differences, Stapleton said the biggest threat to continued economic prosperity in Colorado is the policy positions put forth by the Democrat candidates for Governor.
“Jared Polis is literally running for Governor to end the future of the energy industry in Colorado as we know it,” Stapleton said. “That would take away 230,000 jobs from Colorado’s economy. It would take $32 billion out of Colorado’s economy. His plan for renewable energy in Colorado will cost us at least $50 billion as a starter.”
Stapleton added many of the candidates from the Democrat side are also for a single-payer health care system, which would also cripple the economy, he said.
All of the candidates agreed that the declining workforce with vocational training is the result of not enough state support for businesses that need employees with specific skill sets.
“Colorado has an incredibly vibrant community college network,” Mitchell said. “And we’re not leveraging that as much as we could. Community College is the most affordable form to get worker retraining done.”
Michell said he would also freeze tuition for the entirety of his four-year term, saying he didn’t believe colleges couldn’t absorb the freeze.
“Make no mistake, Colorado is the fourth most expensive state in the country to send your kid to college,” Mitchell said. “They have gotten very out of reach for some people.”
Also, out of reach for most Coloradan’s, the candidates said, is driving anywhere in a timely manner. They all said they fear it will only get worse if the failed general fund commitments over the past eight years under Hickenlooper are not reversed.
“Commerce follows infrastructure,” Robinson said. “We have the money. Our state budget in the last eight years has gone from $18 billion to over $30 billion. To fix our roads … it’s going to take about $300 million of debt service a year to borrow $3.5 billion to address our needs. And it starts with widening I-25 all the way from Pueblo to Fort Collins. I’ve heard what the people want. They want four lanes, in both directions, with no tolls and no tax increases. And we can do it.”
Stapleton said Colorado can’t have its First World economy with a Third World infrastructure, pointing much of the blame at Hickenlooper for making the head of the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) a political appointee rather than an engineer. He added that the money needs to be focused on “roads, roads, roads, bridges and roads.”
“When CDOT made the decision, which I vehemently disagreed with, to spend $150 million on new offices for bureaucrats … while the rest of us sit in traffic … we do not have transparency in budgeting for CDOT right now and we absolutely need it,” Stapleton said.
The Colorado Business Roundtable will host another forum on March 29 for the Democrat candidates for Governor.