John Hickenlooper: National Strategy for a Working America

John Hickenlooper
May 3 · 31 min read

Today, speaking in New Hampshire, former Colorado Governor and Democratic presidential candidate John Hickenlooper will outline his “Strategy for a Working America” — a comprehensive plan to rescue and reboot American capitalism.

As a former small businessman, Hickenlooper believes our economy needs to do a far better job of encouraging and rewarding workers and entrepreneurs. Generations of economic policies have hollowed out the middle class and blocked the upward mobility Americans once enjoyed. Hickenlooper’s strategy would put workers and work back at the center of American economic policy, based on six major policy imperatives, which are detailed in the following pages:

1. Create a modern, well-paid workforce, with a $15 minimum wage, relief for student loan debts, and an historic expansion of apprenticeships and skills training for the two-thirds of young people who do not get a four-year degree.

2. Rebuild America’s infrastructure, in order to create jobs and drive economic growth, with a major emphasis on clean energy jobs, as well as rural infrastructure, such as broadband in every county in America.

3. Promote entrepreneurship, through tax credits for small businesses and micro-enterprises, including in rural and distressed areas, and stronger anti-trust enforcement to ensure that mega-businesses do not choke off small business innovation.

4. Reform health care, to ensure universal coverage, cost restraint, and complete portability, so that Americans can change jobs or start a new company without fear of losing their coverage.

5. Ensure the tax code rewards work, by roughly doubling the Earned Income Tax Credit and ensuring it is fully available to childless households; and by taxing capital gains, adjusted for inflation, as ordinary income.

6. Promote open and fair trade, in order to fuel economic growth — including protection of labor and safety standards; environmental standards; rights of US investors; US intellectual property; and more assistance for workers displaced by trade.

Across all these areas, Hickenlooper says there are two things he would not do.

First, he does not believe in demonizing the private sector to score political points. He sees the private sector as an important source of energy and innovation. As a result, for example, he rejects the idea of a government take-over of all health insurance, which would require taking private coverage away from over 150 million people who have it today.

He also does not believe in pursuing economic redistribution in ways that could undermine economic growth. Rather, his plan will both reduce economic inequality and ensure robust private-sector-led economic growth.

These policies flow from Hickenlooper’s life experiences. Hickenlooper moved to Colorado in 1981 to pursue a career in geology. In 1986, due to a downturn and changing economy, John and thousands of other geologists lost not only their jobs, but their profession. John was out of work for two years. In 1987, he and some friends decided to start their own business. Using a library book on how to write a business plan, and cobbling together loans from the local government and family and friends, they opened a brewpub in an abandoned warehouse district.

John worked with other small businesses in this forgotten corner of Denver — now known as LoDo — to create a dynamic, new neighborhood that became a national model for urban revitalization. John ultimately opened 15 brewpubs and restaurants, almost all in historic buildings, mostly across the Midwest. As he did in Denver, he worked closely with other businesses, nonprofits, and local governments to help revitalize the downtowns around each of his brewpubs.

Informed by his experiences as a small business owner and civic activist, Hickenlooper went on to serve two terms as Mayor of Denver, and two terms as Governor of Colorado, During his tenure, he repeatedly brought people to get big, progressive things done: nearly universal health care; the biggest expansion of light rail in modern American history; new scholarship and apprenticeship programs; and more. As he said in his announcement speech in March, he’s a “do-er,” and that was clear from his economic record.

When Hickenlooper took office, Colorado was 40th in job growth. By the time he left office, Colorado had the top economy in America for two years running, according to US News & World Report.


Make the Minimum Wage a Living Wage

The federal minimum wage is a vital tool to ensure livable wages for full-time workers. The last federal minimum wage increase occurred almost ten years ago in July 2009, and we are past due for an increase.

When Governor Hickenlooper supported a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage in Colorado, he said, “I’m not sure there’s another way to help move more people out of poverty than to raise the minimum wage… I think in this county, if you work 40 hours a week, and you work hard you ought to be able to afford an apartment.”[1]

A single parent making the federal minimum wage and working full-time would make $15,080 annually, an amount that is below the poverty line for a family of two.[2] Every 10% increase in minimum wage reduces poverty rates in the African-American and Hispanic communities by 10.9%[3] and would reduce the number of people living in poverty by 2.4%.[4]

As President, Hickenlooper will raise the minimum wage to a nationwide floor of $15/hour by 2024, and he will also permanently tie the minimum wage to cost of living. Moving forward, the minimum wage must always be a living wage. In some high cost-of-living areas today, we need to go even higher than $15/hr in the very near future.

Setting a Nationwide Floor of $15/hour

Large metropolitan areas and geographies with higher costs of living will be moved to $15/hour by 2021, followed by mid-size and mid-costs cities and then finally all communities nationwide will be at $15/hour by 2024.

● MSAs in the top 25th percentile of cost-of-living based on RPP data will transition to $15/hour by 2021

● MSAs in the second 25th percentile of cost-of-living based on RPP data will transition to $15/hour by 2022

● MSAs in the third 25th percentile of cost-of-living based on RPP data will transition to $15/hour by 2023

● MSAs in the fourth 25th percentile of cost-of-living based on RPP data will transition to $15/hour by 2024

Regional Price Parities (RPP) is an index that measures the differences across regions in the prices of goods and services. In other words, it’s a measure of comparative purchasing power across MSAs, determined by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Tying the Minimum Wage to Cost of Living

Hickenlooper will index the minimum wage to an area’s cost of living, guaranteeing that the minimum wage will rise in conjunction with the increased prices of goods and services. We must never again allow the minimum wage to lag so far behind productivity, keeping millions of hard-working Americans in poverty.

Data from the Department of Commerce, specifically the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis, will be used to determine the appropriate peg for the minimum wage increases going forward.

● Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs, as designated by the U.S. Census) would be sorted into four groups based on their most recent RPP data.

● Every three years the minimum wage would be adjusted, tracking changes in the prices of regional goods and services, based on increases in the average hourly wage of private sector, non-supervisory workers — modeling a similar bill that U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) recently introduced in the House.

Seventeen states currently index their minimum wage based on cost of living increases and/or consumer price index increases.[5]

Address Education Inequality and Debt

To create a modern, well-compensated workforce, we must have a higher education strategy that tackles the student loan crisis without forgetting the two-thirds of Americans who won’t get a four-year degree.

The size of student loan debt is a national emergency, with devastating, long-lasting effects rippling through our economy, directly and indirectly affecting every American. The 44 million Americans with student loans have been forced to put their lives on hold — delaying their first home purchase, waiting to get married and starting families, putting off saving for retirement, and inhibiting entrepreneurship and small business creation.[6] By effectively addressing the student loan crisis, Hickenlooper will unleash a new era of America economic dynamism and growth.

Hickenlooper is equally focused on the forgotten two-thirds of Americans who will not receive a four-year degree. As President, he will invest in a “free skills” program, to ensure that every American is able to access the skills training they need to pursue their version of the American dream.

Addressing the Cost of Higher Education

The cost of college has soared over the last thirty years, dramatically outpacing inflation. College costs have grown 8 times faster than wage growth over the last 30 years.[7] This is unsustainable. Instead of investing in our next generation and our workforce, states have cut significantly cut higher education funding.[8] And universities, responding to the availability of student loans, have allowed tuition to skyrocket. As President, Hickenlooper will:

● Increase federal funding for public colleges and universities

● Include incentives designed to increase state investment

● Present a budget that ties certain federal grants with requirements for states to provide their share of funding as well as containing cost control requirements on universities.

Hickenlooper knows it will take a team effort to achieve cost control.

Cutting Student Loan Rates

The federal government is far and away the largest provider of student loans and has a responsibility to significantly lower interest rates. Hickenlooper will:

● Cut the federal interest rate on all student loans — undergraduate and graduate — to 2.5%, matching the current 10-year Treasury rate. This will reset the student loan market, allowing millions of students to easily refinance, and will conservatively save an average student borrower over $4,000.[9]

● Restore the mission of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — which has been gutted by the Trump Administration to favor mega-corporations over consumers — to again aggressively advocate for consumers, standing up to predatory for-profit universities and fraudulent student loan collectors.

Skills Training & Free Community College

Hickenlooper is passionate about serving the two-thirds of Americans who won’t obtain a four-year college degree. As President, Hickenlooper will make the largest investment in apprenticeship and skills training in the nation’s history

First, he will make community college free for all Americans — young and old — who can’t afford it. This program is now a reality in nearly 20 states, but it’s time we expand it to all Americans.[10]

Next, Hickenlooper will scale Colorado’s successful Careerwise program, which offers high school students the opportunity to apprentice with all types of businesses, from banking to manufacturing, while earning college credit (at no cost to the students) and a paycheck (earning thousands of dollars in wages by the time students graduate).[11]

Hickenlooper created this program in Colorado by bringing people together and unleashing the power of government funding, nonprofit support and corporate opportunity. These programs are win-win, they provide students with transferable skills and a paycheck, while helping businesses who are eager to fill key middle-skills jobs.[12] The program has since been replicated in more than a dozen states.

As President, Hickenlooper will bring Careerwise to the national level. Hickenlooper will incentivize companies to provide apprenticeships and he will also allow Pell grants to be used to pay for apprenticeships, not just for college.

The program will quickly become self-sustaining as both the apprentice and the hiring business benefit from the apprenticeship. Companies will realize positive ROI based on the value of the apprentices’ work, reduce turnover costs and create a talent pipeline of skilled workers for hard-to-fill positions.[13]


A thriving economy can’t exist without properly funded infrastructure. As Mayor of Denver, John Hickenlooper brought Republican and Democratic Mayors together to pass the largest expansion of expansion of light rail in modern American history.[14] As Governor, Hickenlooper brought together lawmakers from both parties to pass a plan to bring all of Colorado’s 64 counties reliable broadband service.[15]

Hickenlooper’s plan for America’s infrastructure revolves around a trillion-dollar federal investment in infrastructure, with a particularly strong emphasis on:

● Clean energy initiatives and projects designed to reduce traffic, create more multi-modal options, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

● Major investments in rural areas so that every community regardless of where has access to reliable broadband service.

These investments will be paid for in part by a partial repeal of the Trump-Ryan tax cut. The Governor will also incentivize the types of private-public partnerships that have given birth to so many urban revitalization projects across the country, including Lower Downtown Denver.

Historic Green Jobs Program

Green jobs are the jobs of the future for every community. Colorado now has as many clean energy jobs as extraction jobs, and solar, wind, and energy efficiency jobs are one of the state’s fastest growing jobs sectors. Under Hickenlooper’s leadership, all 64 counties in Colorado saw tremendous growth in clean energy. In Colorado, it’s now cheaper to produce renewable energy than any other type. Coal-fired power plants there are closing and being replaced with renewables.

Hickenlooper wants to invest in clean energy job growth, and address our massive need for more multimodal transportation in cities. That’s why this plan will not only include funding for our backlog of transportation projects, but 200 billion dollars will be set aside to revolutionize our transportation network and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Hickenlooper will also spend 150 million dollars upgrading America’s electric grid to be more efficient and better equipped to utilize our massive renewable energy growth.

Expansion of BUILD Grants

As Mayor of Denver and Governor of Colorado, Hickenlooper has helped put federal grant dollars to use on high priority projects. Without those federal dollars, some of Colorado’s most important infrastructure projects never would have become a reality. The BUILD grant program has become such an in-demand pot of money for local projects that just 5 percent of applicants received funding in 2017. With an expansion of these grants, more states could receive funding for their most vital projects. Hickenlooper’s plan would include a massive expansion of the program to 5 billion dollars annually.

Stabilizing the Highway Trust Fund

Congress has failed to stabilize funding for the Highway Trust Fund leading to record unmet infrastructure repairs. America has an estimated 47,000 structurally deficient bridges, countless miles of highway in need of repair, and thousands of buses and trains that will soon reach the end of their lifespans.[16] Hickenlooper’s plan will stabilize the trust fund with an additional 200 billion dollars in funding over the next ten years.

Addressing America’s Public Lands Maintenance Backlog

Despite national parks having historic numbers of visitors last year, there are nearly 20 billion dollars in deferred maintenance costs across the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service. Hickenlooper’s plan would include 20 billion dollars in funding to address those deferred needs.

Eliminating Lead in Water

Nearly 5,000 U.S. water systems that provide service to roughly 18 million people violate the EPA’s rules for lead water concentrations. There is no excuse for Americans to not have safe drinking water. One of the main reasons for this problem is that many municipal lines connecting to homes have not been brought up to federal standards. Under the plan, the federal government would spend 30 billion dollars to remediate and replace these lines so that no community has lead in their drinking water.

Updating and Replacing Water and Sewage Treatment Systems

Over the next twenty years, municipalities will be facing over 600 billion dollars in costs to replace water and sewage treatment plants. Under the plan, the federal government would set aside 130 billion dollars for these projects including money to expand grant access for individual septic system replacements in rural counties.

Fixing the FAA’s Project Backlog

Over the next ten years, the Federal Aviation Administration will have a nearly 20-billion-dollar budget shortfall for upcoming projects. We will add an additional 20 billion dollars to the FAA’s annual facilities and equipment budget, the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) so that our airports stay efficient and our skies are safe.

Rural Broadband

Today’s economy requires reliable broadband access. Too many rural communities are falling behind because their residents do not have access to the internet. In Colorado, Hickenlooper passed a plan to get reliable broadband access to all of Colorado’s 64 counties. As President, he will fund 20 billion dollars for that purpose resulting in near universal access to rural broadband within the continental United States. This will help communities connect into today’s economy and help keep our rural counties open for business.[17]

Repairing America’s Public Schools

Hickenlooper’s plan will also include 130 billion dollars to meet the infrastructure needs of public schools. The federal government needs to step up and help municipalities and states address the growing crisis of underfunded public schools. Too many students are in classrooms without heat or air conditioning, and local school districts do not have the funds to address these needs.


Small business is one of the great engines of the American economy. According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses (which SBA defines under 500 employees) account for 65.9% of net new jobs created from 2000–2017, and comprise 41.1% percent of private sector payroll.[18]

Yet America’s startup economy is slowing down. Fewer people are deciding to become entrepreneurs.[19] According to the Census Bureau, 414,000 startup firms created 2.5 million new jobs in 2015, below the average in the 2002–2006 period of 524,000 startup firms and 3.3 million new jobs per year.

The peak was in 2006, when 558,000 startup firms created 3.4 million jobs.[20] Simply returning to those 2006 levels of American innovation would result in 150,000 new startups and 900,000 additional jobs compared to our current track.[21] Hickenlooper believes that, with the right policies and leadership, it is possible to spur multiples of that kind of expansion of entrepreneurship and start-ups.

The decline in start-ups in recent years is partly due to the rise of competition-strangling mega-firms in many sectors after decades of erosion in antitrust enforcement. America’s two largest hardware stores now control 80% of market share. Currently, four companies control 98% percent of the cell phone service provider market share. Fully 56% of all e-commerce is controlled by Amazon and eBay. Even America’s beer industry is 75% controlled by just three companies.

Such market domination creates opportunities for sector giants to undercut competition from small business in numerous ways, from locking them out of supply chains, to outright buy-outs of potential new entrants in the sector. Monopolistic companies also use tactics such as non-compete agreements to prevent employees in their sectors from starting their own firms. Nearly one in five American workers are subject to non-compete clauses, and research shows that states with enforceable non-compete agreements have lower rates of within-industry entrepreneurship.[22] [23] One study finds that enforceable non-compete agreements may lead to an 18% reduction in new firms in knowledge-intense fields.

America’s entrepreneurs also face an adverse federal incentive structure. A series of federal policies subject small firms to major new costs and regulations (e.g., on the federal minimum wage, health care coverage, unpaid leave) once they pass a certain threshold (e.g., 50 employees). Yet there are few federal provisions to help small businesses overcome such “cliffs” and scale their businesses.[24] Partly due to such asymmetrical policies, the chances that a new company can grow to $10 million of revenue by its fifth year are around 0.5%, according to a 2015 Deloitte study.[25]

As President, Hickenlooper will address the rise of market domination by strengthening anti-trust laws and by providing additional federal support to small businesses in order to grow, particularly in rural areas.

Changing the Focus on Antitrust Laws

In the late 1970s, the so-called “Chicago School” began to undermine the role of antitrust laws in protecting upstart businesses from unfair competition. This school of thought posited that antitrust intervention was more likely to harm consumers — to take actions that were “false positives” in their words — than to protect consumers by enabling competition. In a range of areas, including the rules of predatory pricing and what constitutes monopoly conduct, the Chicago School approach gutted the effectiveness of antitrust law. By picking antitrust enforcers who espoused this approach, and by picking judges who championed it, our antitrust laws are no longer working effectively on behalf of consumers and entrepreneurs.

The results of the Chicago School agenda are in and they are a more concentrated economy, a harder environment for entrepreneurs to build businesses, and a more difficult environment for consumers and workers. As President, Hickenlooper would:

● Push for a “post-Chicago School” approach to antitrust, appointing enforces who appreciate the need to encourage competition, nominating judges who are committed to the original aims of the antitrust laws, and supporting legislation and administrative actions that encourage competition.

● To support these goals, he would support legislation to restore the Clayton Antitrust Act to its original purpose of encouraging competition instead of solely focusing on general public welfare.

Codifying a Right to Repair

Big corporations have been intentionally making their products more difficult to repair by adding software that prohibit non authorized repairmen from doing the work. These practices prevent owners of products and small businesses from doing the work and increase the costs for consumers because of the lack of competition.

As President, Hickenlooper would encourage Congress to pass legislation that prohibits companies from preventing others from repairing their high-value products by:

● Outlawing diagnostic authorization

● Requiring companies to release repair-related manuals.

This proposal would be directed towards large purchase like automobiles and agricultural equipment. This change would lead to more market competition amongst repairmen because smaller shops could fix a greater variety of products.

Limiting Non-Compete Agreements and Prohibiting Non-Poach Agreements in Franchises

Too many American workers have lost the ability to break out on their own because of non-compete and non-poach agreements. Companies should not be able to tell their employees they can’t look for better opportunities elsewhere. These agreements stifle innovation, suppress wage growth, and prevent workers from taking the skills they have learned to new adventures. States that do not enforce these agreements see more innovation, more startups, and higher wages for employees.

As President, Hickenlooper would urge Congress to:

● Pass limits on non-compete agreements in hiring contracts to short durations

● Prohibit non-competes for non-exempt employees

● Force companies to prove genuine harm before legally enforcing the agreements

Hickenlooper would also enforce our antitrust laws appropriately to prevent franchises from using “no poach” laws to prevent workers from benefiting from competition.

Federal Data Collection and Publishing

The federal government’s commitment to addressing and understanding industry consolidation needs to be redoubled. In 1981, the Federal Trade Commission stopped publishing and collecting industry concentration data.[26]

As President, Hickenlooper would bring back the required 1981 Federal Trade Commission reporting on industry concentration. Moreover, he would also commission more studies and analyses, including retrospective evaluations of consummated mergers, providing guidance for future work and even investigating whether completed mergers should be undone.

Fueling Growth for Micro-businesses with a New $50B Tax Credit

This “Mom & Pop” tax credit allows owners who are actively engaged in managing their microbusiness (businesses with 5 or fewer full-time employees and with revenues of less than $10 million annually) to receive up to $50,000 in lifetime tax credits based on two years of demonstrated growth of the business.[27] The applicant may earn a credit equal to 20% of the payments in new investments or new employment at the microbusiness. The total lifetime tax credits claimed by any single applicant and any related persons are limited to $50,000.

The Small Business Administration would be authorized to award tax credits up to $5 billion each calendar year, plus any unclaimed credits carried forward from the prior year.

This would result in 1 million micro-entrepreneurs being eligible for a $50,000 tax credit.

Fueling Rural and Distressed-Area Growth — $10B Investment in “Entrepreneurial Opportunity Zones”

Based on the Colorado Rural Jump-Start program, Hickenlooper also proposes a new national program of Entrepreneurial Opportunity Zones, which will provide incentives for entrepreneurs and workers in rural and distressed areas by providing tax relief to new businesses and new hires of these businesses. Companies participating in the Jump-Start program must:

1. Have a relationship with a local/regional state higher education institution

2. Be in one of the existing 8,700 Opportunity Zones nationwide

3. Be new to the Opportunity Zone

4. May not directly compete with existing business in the Opportunity Zone

5. Hire at least 5 new FTEs in the Opportunity Zone

All New Businesses that are approved for participation in the program receive a 25% deduction in corporate income taxes for five years. All New Hires that are approved for participation in the program receive a 25% deduction in federal income taxes for five years

The Jump-Start Zone program is exclusively for businesses designated as new businesses. The Entrepreneurial Opportunity Zone program will be capped at providing $10B in tax relief annually with each Opportunity Zone receiving an allocation of at least $1,000,000 in tax incentives.


America’s current health care system has become a major obstacle for economic growth and a better life for working people. The US spends far more per person on health than any other nation on earth — yet our health outcomes are no better, and our families continued to be terrorized by “surprise costs,” such as extra bills for out-of-network providers. It is a system that is failing our families and bankrupting our national resources.

The Trump administration is trying to make this already-bad picture even worse, by seeking to repeal all the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. If successful, that would mean Americans with pre-existing conditions would lose their ability to get health care coverage. Americans would lose their life-time caps on out-of-pocket health expenses. Young people would no longer be able to get health coverage from their parents’ health plans, up to age 26.

Hickenlooper believes we need to reform our health care system — as a matter of social justice, and as an imperative for economic growth.

That’s what Hickenlooper did as Governor. Working on a bipartisan basis, he successful expanded Medicaid, created one of the most innovative health exchanges in the country, and brought his state to near-universal coverage. Today nearly 95% of Coloradans have health care coverage.

As president, he will reform the country’s health system to achieve four key goals:

· Universal coverage, because health care is right.

· Stronger rules to control costs.

· Portability, so that people can change jobs, or start a company, without fear of losing their coverage.

· Ensuring that every American has a reliable place to go for their health — where the medical staff knows them and their conditions — a “medical home” — so that there is full attention to preventive and mental health care.

Hickenlooper rejects the idea of “Medicare for All” — moving all Americans to a government-run single-payer health care system. He notes that over 150 million Americans currently get their health through private, employer-provided coverage, and that most of them are satisfied with that arrangement. Under Hickenlooper’s plan, those who wish to keep their private coverage can do so; but those who lack coverage, or wish to switch, will be able to access a public option for insurance — such as buying into a plan like Medicare — on an open and affordable basis.

Hickenlooper’s plan will stop the endless spiraling of national health care costs. It will ensure every American has access to health coverage. And it will help unlock the energy of enterprising workers and would-be small business owners, who will be able to pursue their dreams without having to worry about being bankrupted by medical bills.


John Hickenlooper wants to ensure America’s economy does more to reward work, reduce income inequality, and promote opportunity for young people and entrepreneurs. At the heart of his “Strategy for a Working America” is a determination to revise the federal tax code so it does more to reward work, and less to unduly favor those who earn their income from passive investment.

Two major tax-related initiatives designed to reorient the federal tax code to these twin goals of economic equality and economic growth:

● A major expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, with roughly a doubling of the existing benefit, and reforms to ensure that this refundable tax credit is fully available to working tax filers who do not have children living at home.

● Ending most aspects of the privileged tax treatment of long-term capital gains, so that these sources of income will be taxed as ordinary income in most cases; the reform includes ending provisions that now allow the wealthy to pass on stock portfolios and other assets with no long-term capital gains taxes at death.

The American economy over past decades has been a starkly divided picture. For working Americans, it has been a picture of relative stagnation. Real wages have barely increased since the mid-1970s, despite overall growth in the economy.

The picture is quite different for the best-off Americans. The share of American income going to the top 1% of Americans has now returned to levels that have not been seen since the “Roaring Twenties,” just before the Great Depression.[28] Since the 1990s, the gains for those at the top have been mostly driven by income derived from capital, rather than from wage gains.

According to former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, if the United States had the same income distribution it had in 1979, the bottom 80% of the population would have an average of $11,000 more per family than they do today.[29]

Hickenlooper seeks to end this divided and inequitable picture. His “Strategy for a Working America” seeks to reward work and reduce historic income inequality with two major tax changes.

Increase and Improve the Earned Income Tax Credit

First, the strategy would significantly increase and improve the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC — which is refundable, and administered entirely through the tax code — has proved to be one of the country’s strongest, best-targeted, and most efficient ways to combat poverty and ensure a decent income for those who work.

Because of the importance of this program, as Governor, Hickenlooper proposed roughly a doubling of Colorado’s state match to the EITC.

Yet the federal EITC currently does not provide enough tax relief to ensure that all working households receive a decent income, above the poverty line. Part of the problem is that the credit is limited for households that do not have children living at home.

Hickenlooper’s proposal is broadly similar to the recently-introduced “Grow American Incomes Now” (GAIN) Act, introduced in 2017 by Senator Sherrod Brown and Representative Ro Khanna. As in GAIN, Hickenlooper’s proposal would

● Roughly double the EITC for households with children.

● Raise the maximum benefit for households that do not have children living at home, resulting in approximately a six-fold increase in benefits for the average childless recipient household.

● Reduce the minimum qualifying age for workers not raising children in their home from 25 to 21, and increase the credit’s income limit.

The proposal would benefit a broad range of working households. Under the reform, the EITC would benefit childless couples with incomes up to $42,700 (in 2017 dollars), and married couples with a child with incomes up to $64,800.

According to analysis by the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, this set of changes would have a dramatic effect on the incomes of working Americans. It would increase the incomes of 47 million working families and individuals, including 21 million who would become newly eligible for the credit. The average benefit across these individuals would be $2,800.[30]

In addition to reducing income inequality, expanding the EITC is a pro-growth reform. It will place more income in the hands of working families, who spend more of their income on consumption than upper-income households. This means the reform will help boost consumer demand, which is a key driver of economic growth.

Tax Long-Term Capital Gains as Ordinary Income in Most Cases

The second major tax change in Hickenlooper’s “Strategy for a Working America” would end the advantaged tax treatment of long-term capital gains. Currently, the federal tax code taxes ordinary income at rates of up to 37%; but taxation of income derived from long-term capital gains is capped at 21%.

This provision rewards those who benefit from passive investments (e.g., the rise in value of stocks, appreciation in value of artwork, etc.) more than those who draw their income from a weekly paycheck. It is one of the primary drivers of the country’s historic income and wealth inequality; nearly 80% of the benefits from lower taxes on capital gains go to the top 1%.[31] The advantaged taxation of capital gains is also one of the tax code’s key drivers of complexity tax avoidance strategies.

Hickenlooper’s proposal would:

● Treat dividends and long-term capital gains as ordinary income for tax purposes. Long-term capital gains linked to small businesses, primary residences, and retirement accounts would be excluded.

● Adjust taxable long-term gains for each eligible asset to account for inflation (as measured by the consumer price index) for the period over which the asset was held. In other words, a taxpayer realizing a $100 capital gain on an asset held for one year, during which inflation was 5%, would pay tax on $95.23 (= $100 / 1.05).

● End the exclusion on taxation of capital gains at death and other transfers, which is one of the primary ways that upper-income households escape taxation on their gains. His proposal would value and tax such gains as ordinary income upon the death of the taxpayer and upon other transfers.

Hickenlooper’s proposal would not include the “mark-to-market” concept proposed by some as a reform of the taxation of capital gains, due to the complexities and enforcement difficulties this concept would introduce.

An analysis by Americans for Tax Fairness estimates that a set of reforms on the taxation of capital gains of this kind would likely raise $500 billion to $2.4 trillion in additional federal revenue over 10 years.[32]


As Governor, John Hickenlooper took Colorado from 40th in job growth to the number one economy in America, according to US News & World Report.[33] Part of the secret to Colorado’s new economic strength is trade; Colorado now exports over $8 billion in goods each year, accounting for over 40,000 jobs. Hickenlooper understands how trade — when done right — can benefit our farmers, entrepreneurs, technology companies, aerospace sector, and many other areas where America continues to lead the world in innovation.

Hickenlooper rejects the idea of demonizing the private sector to score political points, and instead issues a clarion call for rebooting American capitalism, so that it produces both greater economic equality and greater economic growth. His plan ensures open and fair trade, in a way that benefits American workers, employers, investors, and national security interests.

As President, Hickenlooper will launch a new set of policies to ensure open and fair trade for America. His plan for trade includes five key elements:

  1. Ensure trading partners adopt and enforce fair labor and safety standards
  2. Ensure the protection of IP rights of American companies
  3. Require trading partners to enforce environmental and climate standards
  4. Ensure US firms enjoy equitable and comparable investment rights abroad
  5. Ensure US workers have assistance to adjust to job displacement from trade

At a time when our president and many leaders in both parties are pursuing steps to restrict trade, Hickenlooper believes we must expand trade, on fair terms, in order to have a growing economy. The United States has gained enormously from the structure of alliances and trading networks it helped build and lead in the decades succeeding World War II. Ninety-five percent of the world’s consumers now live outside the US.[34] Our country’s global trade supports 41 million US jobs.[35] Export-led growth, if conducted fairly, can lower consumer prices, raises wages, and increase demand for US goods.

One of Donald Trump’s most harmful and short-sighted actions has been to launch tariff wars and walk away from trade agreements that held the promise of growing our economy, creating good jobs, and deepening security ties with friends and allies around the world. Rather than cooperatively working with foreign friends and allies to improve the terms of trade, he has unilaterally attacked the global trading system, with dire consequences for our country:

● Trump’s own Department of Agriculture estimates that the on-going tariff war will have an $11 billion negative impact on U.S. agriculture.[36]

● U.S. farmers in the Midwest are filing for chapter 12 bankruptcy protection at the highest levels in a decade. In seven Midwestern rural states, including Iowa, farm bankruptcies in 2018 were almost double the amount from 2008.[37]

● The US lost out on an estimated $131 billion increase in annual real incomes, or .5% of GDP, due to failure to secure a trade deal with Pacific trading partners.[38]

● Researches at Iowa State University estimate that Iowa’s overall losses in the agricultural industry will exceed $1 billion in 2018 alone from trade disruptions linked to tariffs.[39]

● The global trade war set off by Trump’s tariffs is devastating the dairy industry in Wisconsin and around the nation. The US Dairy Export Council estimates that over the next several years, retaliatory tariffs by Mexico and China could cost dairy farmers $16.6 billion in lost revenues.[40]

Trump’s destructive policies on trade, and the proposals of other anti-trade leaders, also threaten to undermine America’s national security. As the US has pulled out of potential trade-expanding agreements, it has reduced our own ability to get help from friends and allies to address major challenges, from China’s unfair trade practices, to North Korea’s nuclear program, to Russia’s bullying of its neighbors, to efforts to stem illegal immigration into our country.

By contrast, Hickenlooper’s trade plan — in conjunction with his broad economic strategy — will ensure more growth, opportunity, and fairness for the American people. Hickenlooper understands that being absent from economic opportunity anywhere in our interconnected world is not an option. He believes open and fair trade is achievable, and essential to the prosperity and security of the American people.

Ensure Labor and Safety Rights as Part of Any Trade Agreement

As President, Hickenlooper will ensure that labor and safety standards in any trade agreement are set at the highest levels, and equally observed and enforced across all parties. This would ensure that no country that is a party to a trade agreement with the US is able to restrict the right for labor to organize, use child labor in its factories, force workers to work in unsafe conditions, or otherwise gain competitive advantage against US workers by mistreating their own workers.

Specifically, any trade agreements entered into by a Hickenlooper administration will ensure that:

● Labor and safety standards, and strong enforcement of the standards, are a precondition for new trade deals

● A process exists to enable these standards to evolve and improve across the trading bloc over time

● Bilateral enforcement mechanisms are established, where complaints can be addressed in a timely manner

● Penalties for non-observance are significant, and can include withdrawal of trading benefits

● Parties to trade agreements are limited in importing materials or product from countries which do not observe adequate labor and safety standards for export to the US, and that real enforcement mechanisms exist.

Ensure the Protection of IP Rights of US Companies

Intellectual property (IP) is a key American resource. Over 40 million US jobs are in “IP-intensive” industries, and these industries represent among the most competitive of our businesses internationally. These industries also tend to pay higher wages, and drive almost 60% of US merchandise exports. Protecting the IP behind these jobs will be a critical component of Hickenlooper’s Open and Fair Trade Policy.

As President, Hickenlooper will ensure that his open and fair trade policy:

● Provides strong protections for US firms’ patent, copyrights, and trademarks

● Provides strong penalties for theft of American IP, including by cyber theft

● Prohibits the importation or sale of counterfeit products

● Ensures IP protections across all countries are easily obtained and enforced, and that noncompliance penalties are strict, including withdrawal of trading privileges

Require Enforcement of Environmental and Climate Change Standards

Hickenlooper believes open and fair trade cannot come at the expense of America’s or the planet’s environment. Hickenlooper will particularly incorporate climate change goals into our trade agreements. The success of the planet’s efforts to combat climate change ultimately depend on international cooperation; we cannot do it alone. Previous trade agreements have too often ignored or underplayed climate change and greenhouse gas emissions as a multilateral problem. As part of his administration’s open and fair trade policy, Hickenlooper will:

● Ensure greenhouse gas emission goals to combat global warming are set and enforced as part of any trade policy

● Ensure that overall environmental standards, including adequate protections for clean air and water are included in any trade agreements

● Make enforcement mechanisms transparent and efficient, and have sufficiently severe penalties for noncompliance, including withdrawal of trade privileges

● Ensure that parties to the trade treaty are limited in importing materials or product from countries which do not observe adequate environmental standards, and then exporting those to the US, and that real enforcement mechanisms exist in enforcing this.

Ensure US Companies’ Investment Rights are Protected and Equitable

Open and fair trade requires US companies and individuals to be able to invest across geographies. Some countries have unfairly constrained US firms from investing in their markets, even as they enjoy virtually unrestricted access to US markets. As President, Hickenlooper will ensure that:

● The rights of American companies to invest, acquire, divest and gain market access are protected and equitable to those of foreign companies

● National security exceptions to this policy are well defined and cannot be abused or misused for political purposes

● Enforcement mechanisms are efficient and transparent

Ensure US Assistance for US Workers to Ensure Skills and Mobility

Hickenlooper’s open and fair trade policies will broadly increase growth and prosperity for American workers, employers, and investors. At the same time, Hickenlooper knows that trade can inevitably result in disruptions and losses for specific workers. He believes past US trade policies have done far too little to ensure American workers have the skills and mobility they need to move to new and better jobs — both generally, and in the specific context of trade displacement. Therefore, his open and fair trade policy includes a new set of policies that will provide federal assistance to workers preparing for jobs of the future and responding to changes caused by global trade:

  1. Individual Security Accounts: Hickenlooper will create a new system of Individual Security Accounts — “ISAs” — which are mobile accounts tied to individuals, funded pre-tax with a combination of government, worker and employer contributions, with continuing employer and employee contributions similar to current IRAs. Hickenlooper believes workers should be investing in improving their skills 3–5 years ahead of any job change, and ISAs will make that possible for all workers, including those who feel their jobs are at risk due to trade-related changes. ISAs could to be used at any time for retraining or relocation in case of job loss, or folded into traditional IRAs on retirement
  2. Additional assistance for trade-impacted areas. The Secretary of Labor will designate geographic areas adversely affected by trade displacement. Residents in such areas will be able to devote more pre-tax funds to their ISAs, in order to help fund their training, relocation, and other steps related to adjustment.

Hickenlooper’s broader economic program includes policies that will also make it easier for workers to adjust to changing employment patterns, including free community college for those who cannot afford tuition, and universal coverage, so that workers can change jobs without fear of losing insurance.









[9] Calculation based on average undergraduate student loan debt of $30,000 at 5% interest paid over 10 years compared to Hickenlooper’s plan which would reduce the interest rate to 2.5%.









[18] and “Frequently Asked Questions,” U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, August 2018; and “Frequently Asked Questions,” U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, August 2017







[25] “Scale-Up: The Experience Game,” Deloitte Fast Ventures.


[27] Nebraska currently offers an Advantage Microenterprise Tax Credit that is similar to this approach:

[28] See for example: Chad Stone, Danilo Trisi, Arloc Sherman, and Roderick Taylor, “A Guide to Statistic on Historical Trends in Income Inequality” (Washington DC: Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, 2018); and Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman, “Distributional National Accounts: Methods and Estimates for the United States,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 133, №2, May 2018,

[29] Lawrence Summers, “Focus on Growth for the Middle Class,” Washington Post, January 18, 2015;

[30] Chuck Marr, Emily Horton, and Brendan Duke, “Brown-Khanna Proposal to Expand EITC Would Raise Incomes of 47 Million Working Households” (Washington DC: Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, 2017),

[31] Steve Wamhoff, “Congress Should Reduce, not Expand, Tax Breaks for Capital Gains” (Washington DC: Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, August 2018).

[32] William Rice and Frank Clemente, “Fair Taxes Now: Revenue Options for a Fair Tax System(Washington DC: Americans for Tax Fairness, April 2019)









John Hickenlooper

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Candidate for President in 2020. Former Governor of Colorado. Dad. Husband. Craft brewer and occasional banjo player. A name you won’t forget.