Campus & Community / News

Panel calls for a new era in state government, new focus on citizen value

SIP Director Jim Griesemer talks about his program's most recent report, "Rethinking Colorado's Government: Principles and Policies for Fiscal Sustainability" on Oct. 3. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

The University of Denver Strategic Issues Program in a new report finds that Colorado — like many other states — suffers from a cyclical and structural fiscal imbalance that undermines the state’s fiscal stability over the long term.

The Strategic Issues Program (SIP) panel says that while Colorado’s budget situation may slowly improve as the economy recovers, the state is poised to founder once again at the next economic downturn. Given Colorado’s fragile financial situation, the panel concludes that achieving a strong and sustainable fiscal environment requires a fundamental rethinking of traditional governmental practices.

SIP Director Jim Griesemer presented the report, “Rethinking Colorado’s Government: Principles and Policies for Fiscal Sustainability,” at a news conference on Oct. 3.

Before introducing sweeping reform recommendations, Griesemer joked about the process.

“After listening to people describe the problems for a full six months, I think the panel’s view could best be described as severely depressed,” he said. “The problems presented appeared to be almost intractable.”

The nonpartisan SIP panel of 20 experts in business, governance and academia heard from 34 speakers who bluntly assessed the state’s problems funding and operating nearly every aspect of government. The program, which was started in 2005, has authored reports on other issues of the day, including immigration, water issues and the Colorado constitution.

Panelists heard from then-Gov. Bill Ritter, virtually every state cabinet member, fiscal experts and experts from across the country on governance and public service. The process was funded by DU as part of its commitment to serving the public good.

In the end, panelists agreed by consensus to recommendations and conclusions that include calls for using private contractors to provide services where appropriate and to foster competition. Furthermore, the panel recommends the state focus on residents when allocating resources, rather than on institutions, a principle that is evident in the panel’s call for redefining how both K-12 and higher education are funded. The panel suggests Colorado consider allowing education dollars to follow the student, not flow directly to the school or university regardless of value or attendance.

In higher education, students could receive a stipend or voucher to be used at the state institution of their choosing, rather than allowing the state to determine how much each school receives annually. That method, Griesemer said, would force schools to attract students by offering the best possible value.

The panel also recommends the state consider repealing the restrictive K-12 school funding rule known as Amendment 23, and suggests substantial changes to the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

“We need to think about government in a different way. We need to think about it from the point of view of the citizen,” Griesemer said. “If this report says anything, it is a plea to shift the focus of government away from government itself and instead to the citizens that it serves.”

Chancellor Robert Coombe commended the panel’s creative approach and new ideas, and he applauded the panel’s ability to produce a report by consensus. He said it’s uplifting and refreshing when panelists from diverse political backgrounds can listen to real, hard facts and then agree on actions that should follow.

Despite the challenges ahead and the work of changing the nature of state government, Griesemer said he is hopeful and encouraged. When states focus on demonstrating value and opening up the process of governance to the public, residents will ultimately respond and come together to find solutions, he said.

“In the face of what is nationally and in Colorado a pretty pessimistic situation, this report is optimistic,” he said. “This report fundamentally believes that citizens can make those kinds of decisions and need to be empowered to make those judgments.”

Thousands of copies of the report are being distributed to leaders in state and local government as well as to thought leaders in other states, and to voters and interested citizens. Griesemer and other panelists plan to speak to civic organizations and to meet as requested with lawmakers to discuss the report.

A video of Griesemer’s presentation is online and a copy of the report as well as more information about the panel and the process is available at

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