Colorado Gov. Jared Polis delivered his second State of the State address Thursday to a Legislature in the control of his fellow Democrats. Not only did he declare that Colorado is strong, but he said it’s also “forward-thinking. It is dynamic. It is bold. And it is courageous.”
All of the other trappings of a typical Polis speech were also in place. You can be assured there was a mention of his blue sneakers and a geeky reference in the form of a quote from the “Lord of the Rings.”
"'All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us,'" Polis told lawmakers, quoting the wizard Gandalf's advice as he urged his colleagues to make the most of their term-limited tenures.
Colorado's State of the State
A lot was done in his first year as the head of the state and he wasn’t bashful about mentioning it in his speech.
“Working together last year, we lowered health care costs, lowered taxes for small businesses, provided more affordable housing, made the largest ever state investment in transportation, and delivered universal free Full Day Kindergarten for all,” he exclaimed.
The governor noted that the bulk of bills he signed in the previous session had bipartisan votes. Both the majority and minority leadership in the legislature mentioned cooperation in their opening speeches on the first day of the session — but also said they were going to defend their positions.
Here are a few highlights from Polis’ speech:
Public Option Health Care
“We know that health care costs won’t magically go down on their own,” Polis said. “We need to keep working at it.”
The biggest proposal was legislation to create a state-administered public option for health insurance. The idea is to generate more competition in a Colorado market where many rural residents have few options, even with the state health insurance exchange created under the Affordable Care Act.
“We estimate that a public option will save Coloradans an additional 9-18 percent on their individual premiums,” Polis said. “Furthermore, the public option will empower folks in the 22 Colorado counties where there is currently only one insurer, and no choice.”
The proposal would build on health care-related legislation enacted in the previous session. Key accomplishments include a state reinsurance program to lower private insurance rates, hospital price transparency and consumer protections against surprise out-of-network medical bills.
Paid Family Leave
Work on paid family leave fizzled in the last session, something Polis acknowledged as “no easy task” in his speech. Nevertheless, the governor said that lawmakers should pursue a Colorado solution to provide paid family and medical leave.
“It's going to take negotiation and compromise to get it done,” Polis stated.
In the meantime, Gov. Polis asked the chamber to lead by example and give state employees the benefit of paid family leave this year, just as Congress and President Donald Trump did for federal employees.
This was left undone from Polis’ first year in office. Colorado’s flat income tax rate fell this year thanks to a TABOR refund to 4.5 percent and broadly applies across the state.
The governor said reform is still something he’s enthusiastic about “and we should continue down the path of eliminating tax breaks for special interests so that we can lower rates for everyone without reducing state revenue.”
“A broader base taxed at a lower rate will boost economic growth with the ancillary benefit of preventing the corrosive influence of crony capitalism,” Polis said.
In order to pursue this goal, Polis announced the creation of a bipartisan study group to look at the tax code. He set a deadline of the end of his first term for a broader tax base and lower overall rate.
Protecting Public Lands
The governor wants a one-time cash infusion from lawmakers to invest in the state park system. Outdoor recreation and tourism are dependent on the state’s natural beauty, and those crown jewels do suffer from issues brought about by Colorado’s rapid growth.
“In a very real sense, we are loving our public lands to death,” he said.
The money would also help the state open its newest park at Fishers Peak.
Extra Scratch For The Piggy Bank
“With so many pressing needs today, putting money in reserves is always a hard sell — I get that — but we have an obligation to save during prosperous times like these so we can weather the next storm whenever it comes,” Polis told a room full of people responsible for the state budget.
Polis asked for $180 million for the reserve fund in the last budget but only got $40 million. This time around the governor wants $118 million. He also said he is working with Colorado Treasurer Dave Young to develop a package of bills to "provide future legislatures and governors tools to rebuild and replenish our coffers as a recovery is happening." But he did not provide any details.