Republican Reaction to Gov. Polis’ Legislative Agenda: ‘We Don’t Know What It Will Cost’

<p>(AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)</p>
<p>Colorado state Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, will soon move to the state Senate to replace Randy Baumgardner. </p>
Photo: State Rep. Bob Rankin (AP Photo)
Colorado state Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, will soon move to the state Senate to replace Randy Baumgardner. 

In his first State of the State address Thursday, Gov. Jared Polis laid out his legislative agenda — a broad slate of priorities from free all-day kindergarten across Colorado to combating climate change.

The big thing missing, in the eyes of soon-to-be Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, was a detailed plan to pay for those priorities.

“I heard a lot of focus on priorities, but not the budget that backs them up,” said Rankin, a member of the powerful Joint Budget Committee.

Rankin took particular issue with Polis’ plan to move Colorado to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040, which the new governor said would save money for consumers and create new jobs, in addition to reducing carbon emissions.

“We don't know what it will cost,” Rankin said. “I think as we go forward on any proposals having to do with that discussion, we're going to ask for clear justification.”

Rankin, who has served in the House since 2013, was appointed earlier this month to fill the Senate seat left open by the resignation of Randy Baumgardner. The sprawling district covers much of northwest Colorado and includes several coal mines. The jobs in those mines are some of the highest paid in his district, Rankin said.

“You cannot replace those with tourism jobs,” he said. “It just doesn't work. That is an idealistic statement to say that we can find easily find new jobs for these folks. In fact, the population in those towns is dropping, the economy is hurting, grocery stores are closing.”

Rankin was also disappointed Polis put more of an emphasis on funding  transportation, spending just 45 seconds to the issue out of his nearly hour-long address.

“We need to come together around a bipartisan funding mechanism to meet our current and future transportation needs that the voters of this state will accept,” Polis said toward the end of his address, before moving on to other topics.

Rankin said that was a missed opportunity, considering the legislature’s action  in the last session to spend hundreds of millions of new dollars on transportation.

“We created a lot of momentum last year,” Rankin said. “It was bipartisan. And I see that momentum being lost.”

Rankin did have some kind words for Polis’ agenda, particularly his plan to fight opioid addiction.

“It's a tragic, tragic impact on our communities,” he said. “And so I feel we're all pretty much on the same page there.”

But whatever Rankin’s concerns with other policies, a Democratic majority in both houses means Republicans have little power to stop legislation Polis favors. Still, the governor made multiple mentions of bipartisan work and called for legislators to “deliver, not to grandstand.”

For Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, Polis’ speech marked the end of nearly a week of pomp and circumstance, and the beginning of a three-month legislative sprint.

“I'm optimistic. I'm excited,” he said. “I'm ready to get to work.”

The interviews in this report were part of CPR's live State of the State coverage.