Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday delivered his fourth State of the State address, laying out his agenda — and message — as he prepares for re-election. In the speech, Polis acknowledged that Colorado is facing multiple threats and challenges.
Instead of opening the speech by acknowledging public officials, Polis began with a moment of silence for Coloradans who have died in mass shootings, fires and of COVID-19. He also spent time acknowledging individuals and groups who have responded to the crises with kindness and bravery.
“I know how easy it is to get lost in the pain and sadness of what we’ve all endured together. But no matter how tough this year has been, I know for a fact that Coloradans are fundamentally good, we care for one another and we are tougher than anything thrown our way,” he said in prepared remarks.
In terms of policy, Polis focused on how Democrats will respond to the rising cost of living and doing business. This is not necessarily a change for Polis. He has spent much of his first term talking about how to lower health care costs, and has supported cuts to the income tax.
But the governor went one step further on Thursday with a riff to the lyrics to Paul Simon’s “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”:
“Just cut the tax, Max. Lower the rate, Nate,” Polis said. “You don’t need to pay more, Thor; just send your kids for free … to preschool and kindergarten.”
Democrats and Republicans alike are racing this year to be the party of saving money. In some cases, they’ve overlapped: Polis on Thursday talked about upcoming tax refunds, temporary fee reductions and a plan to reduce the environmental footprint of government offices.
“If it isn’t clear, saving Coloradans money and keeping our state affordable is my top priority during this legislative session,” Polis said.
Where Polis and Republicans differ is in the governor's continued support of government intervention and regulation. For example, previous Democratic-backed initiatives included a cap on insulin prices and a new state-regulated health insurance program. Those were seen as ways to help lower the cost of living, along with tax reforms passed by Democrats last year.
Overall, Polis did not push for new state programs, as he has in the past. Instead, he spent much of the speech talking about how the state could expand or shore up existing government services, especially with the billions of dollars available to lawmakers from federal aid and booming state tax collections.
Polis underlined plans to use that extra money to keep tuition flat at public colleges and universities. And, like Republicans, he said the state should spend some of its surplus to fund public schools, which have long fallen short of the funding goals set by state law.
Polis also set a goal to make Colorado “one of the top ten safest states in the country.” He aimed to achieve that by expanding mental health services and giving more money to local police — threading the needle between progressive and conservative solutions to community safety.
“As Ben Franklin said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Data and common sense tell us that preventing a crime does more to keep people safe than solving a crime after it was committed,” he said.
“With that being said, we also know that there are times when the swift arm of justice is the best solution, which is why I look forward to legislation to strengthen penalties for drug dealers peddling fentanyl in our communities.”
Reflecting on fires, drought and mudslides, Polis said the state should be “meeting the climate crisis head-on.”
He pointed to the state’s existing goals for carbon reduction and its investment in parks and firefighting. He said the state would invest in air-quality monitoring and electrification, but didn’t outline any specific new targets for greenhouse gas emissions.
Polis did not outline any specific new strategies on the housing crisis, instead he spoke about putting more money into existing programs for affordable housing development.
“We’ve lowered housing costs by funding more than 14,000 units of affordable housing in the last year, saving families more than $72 million annually. And we are ready to do more,” he said.
He also promised “bigger and bolder” approaches to homelessness, including wrap-around support services. He added that “recipients of funds need to be held accountable for reducing homelessness.”
Polis did not outline any major new transportation initiatives, but he highlighted the nearly $6 billion going to state transportation projects from a major state spending package and from federal aid.
“We are finally going to fix the darn roads,” Polis said to some laughter and large applause.
As he did last year, the governor acknowledged the thousands of lives lost to the pandemic. While last year’s speech focused in large part on distributing vaccines and minimizing immediate harm, Polis this year talked about reinforcing hospitals and the health care workforce.
“Putting this pandemic behind us means learning to live with the curveballs that COVID-19 may throw, but in order to do that, we need our hospitals to maintain capacity and ensure Coloradans get the care they need, no matter what,” Polis said.
The governor did not specifically mention the omicron outbreak, nor did he announce any new plans for vaccine or mask requirements.
In recent months, Polis has tried to shift to a more hands-off approach to COVID-19.
“The emergency is over,” he told Colorado Matters in December.
In that interview, he emphasized that local leaders, not state officials, should be making decisions about mask mandates. Instead, he has pointed to vaccines as the way forward.
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