Governor Hickenlooper’s last town hall meeting in Lamar was in September, 2015 and the format for his April 19th meeting held at Lamar Community College was unchanged. Accompanied by several members of the state cabinet, Hickenlooper first addressed the audience at the LCC Wellness Center on relevant issues for Colorado residents before his cabinet briefed the attendees about developments in their respective departments. The governor was joined by Donna Lynne, Lieutenant Governor, who serves as the state’s Chief Operating Officer; Stephanie Copeland of the Office of Economic Development; Shailen Bhatt from the Department of Transportation and Chris Wiseman, Deputy Commissioner for the Colorado Department of Agriculture. The meeting was facilitated by Prowers County resident, John Stulp, former State Agriculture Commissioner and currently the chief advisor to Governor Hickenlooper on Water Issues in Colorado.
“Colorado basically has the number one economy in America,” the governor remarked, stressing that the demands for agricultural products will remain one of our economic mainstays as it did to help the country out of the Great Depression decades ago. Hickenlooper acknowledged the disparity of growth between the Front Range and rural areas of the state, explaining that he wants to see more technological growth in rural areas including more access to broadband capabilities in the smallest towns.
The governor addressed changing technologies as well, “Automation has begun to eliminate a lot of jobs in the U.S.,” he explained, adding that this change can foster tremendous wealth in some companies which flows upwards to the top 1% earnings bracket. “I’d like to see a way to recoup some of that wealth. I believe the top 1% has an obligation to help create and develop new industries; not as a hand-out, but as a way of sustaining job growth for new sectors of the economy.” The governor also mentioned employing the new Jumpstart program which can provide tax incentives to new businesses after they have been in operation for several years.
When asked about the eventual construction of the Lamar Reliever Route, Transportation Director, Shailen Bhatt went right to the point; there is no current available funding for the project, estimated at $150M. He listed other local projects that are improving traffic flow in the region, addressing the current Lamar Main Street project, the new overpass on Highway 50 between Granada and Holly, upgrades for Amtrak on the BNSF railroad and improvements on the Ports to Plains project as well as adding lanes to Highway 50. “The estimated cost of development for that road between Pueblo and the Kansas State line is $1B,” he said, explaining that, “When you feed an elephant, you have to do it in small portions,” as a way of explaining these projects will be undertaken over a span of years when funds are available. Bhatt said most of highway funding budgeted in Colorado is earmarked for upkeep as opposed to building new ones.
John Stulp gave a brief description of future water demands in Colorado, given the state’s growing population. “We’re going to see as many people move to the state over the next 30 years as there will be born from current residents,” he explained, saying that will double the current 5,000,000 residents by the year 2050. Stulp said this will call for more efficient uses of energy and conversation measures as well as planning ahead for additional water storage throughout Colorado.
Regarding the development of more solar and wind power in Colorado, Governor Hickenlooper said it is remarkable that for the first time in almost 50 years, the country will be in a position to be a net exporter of energy by 2018. He said we are facing a challenge with the construction of transmission lines in the region. “The city doesn’t build them, the county doesn’t either. It has to go through the Public Utilities Commission and that is a long and involved process and they are held responsible for making the most cost-effective decisions for their customers.” The governor said he believed the state will see increased construction and use of wind and solar power in the years to come.
The meeting was attended by numerous elected officials as well as representatives of local government and civic organizations. When asked if the topics covered in the public meeting were any different from an earlier private meeting the governor held with some of those officials, the Prowers County Commissioners said some other topics included the on-going issues with conservation easements and the impact CDPHE rulings would have on small communities with regard to maintenance of their landfills.
By Russ Baldwin
Filed Under: Agriculture • City of Granada • City of Holly • City of Lamar • City of Wiley • College • Consumer Issues • County • Economy • Education • Employment • Environment • Featured • Health • Tourism • Transportation • Utilities
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