Jared Polis NFIB
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Joey Bunch, Colorado Politics Gov. Jared Polis speaks to the NFIB Colorado lunch at the History Colorado Center in Denver on March 28.

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By Joey Bunch

Colorado Politics

Jared Polis was in his element, and rarely have I seen the new governor more at ease than during a lunch March 28 with small business owners and operators.

Sure, Polis runs a state of 5.7 million shareholders and a $30 billion budget. Sure, he hit the cyber-economy jackpot twice on his way to becoming one of the richest members of Congress.

But in his mind, as he spoke to members of the National Federation of Independent Business’ Colorado affiliate over barbecued chicken and baked beans, was a kid of about 12 years old selling tomatoes in Boulder.

“It probably wasn’t legal,” he said of the regulatory requirements. “I hope the statute of limitations has run out on that.”

Polis joined the NFIB again on April 1 to sign Senate Bill 103, the so-called lemonade stand bill.

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The new law blocks any local government from requiring a child younger than 18 to pony up for a license or permit. The law applies to a small, occasional business that operates for fewer than 84 days per year, as long as it’s a reasonable distance from a competing business.

The former tomato boy made his fortune, first, with his family’s greeting card business, taking it online and cashing out when the internet boom was ripe.

He sold that business for $780 million and parlayed his new wealth and tech savvy into an online flower business that saved people money and time by hooking them up online with growers and shippers.

As governor, Polis says he will foster the state’s blockchain economy as one of his priorities. Agriculture is one of the industries that could benefit early from the online market that uses cryptocurrencies untethered from banks and government.

Polis said he would next take a regulatory relief view to food trucks and the redundancy of requirements they face.

It’s the kind of hurdle-clearing the small-business advocacy organization seemed to embrace.

“What we want to see is kind of like the Hippocratic Oath: Just do no harm,” said Tony Gagliardi, the state director for NFIB Colorado.

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The Economist, a magazine for high-brow thinkers, seems to think Polis prefers a light government touch for the Midas Touch.

The headline in the March 30 edition called him “an unusual breed: a libertarian Democrat.”

The magazine noted his liberal leanings and yet his small-government paradox.

“Mr. Polis, the first openly gay man to be elected as governor of any state, championed a progressive agenda on the campaign trail, but he does not sound like your average Democrat,” the profile states.

“He backs universal health care, an expansion of full-day kindergarten, paid parental leave and investments in renewable energy. But he also wants to lower the income-tax rate. He identifies as a libertarian. ‘The less government intervention in our private lives, the better. I think that’s a value many Coloradans have on the left and right,’ he says.”

The first comment Polis fielded from the floor of the NFIB lunch in Denver that Thursday was about the new state logo he unveiled a few days earlier.

Besides a more colorful and inviting emblem that markets the entire state, Polis said it didn’t cost his administration a dime to create it in-house, which pleased his small-business sensibilities.

“We pay too much because special interests get too much in tax breaks,” Polis said, warming up the crowd with his “we” talk.

And he was just warming up, too.

“We effectively subsidize big business at the expense of small business,” Polis said, starting to sound a bit like a tent-revival preacher.

And then he brought it home.

“We have about $8 billion (a year) we give away before we collect a dime, and we’re very excited to be going through that with a fine-tooth comb.”

Polis said to expect news on that front in the next couple of years.

How far would $8 billion go? Colorado’s transportation needs for the next decade, to keep up with growth, is estimated at $9 billion.

But it won’t be easy, Polis suggested.

For as good as the lobbyists and activists for small business are, the ones for big business are better, he said.

They won’t give up their government gravy without a fight.

Our previous governor, John Hickenlooper, made his money in the bar trade. “There’s no profit margin in making enemies,” Hickenlooper, who’s now running for president, often said of his slow, cautious, collaborative approach.

The new governor made his millions from the dot-com bubble. He prefers to bust in on a good opportunity; if you wait out the market, the moment passes you by.

That’s why this session is critical for his social and business agenda.

The same week Polis was charming small business, unveiling a state logo and preparing to deregulate lemonade stands, legislators were wringing their hands over signs of a slowing economy.

The forecast for tax revenue for Colorado this year tumbled by $250 million between November and March. A Gallup poll in February indicated that Americans are increasingly pessimistic about the economy.

The thesis of Polis’ speech to Colorado small businesses was that he would pass tax breaks, free daycare via all-day kindergarten, and savings in health care to put more money in people’s pockets, so they would spend it with merchants.

The question is whether timing, always a friend to the financial boy wonder, is again on his side.

Unless shiny new tax revenue shows up in state coffers, Polis will have to find cuts to pay for his promises.

As with tomatoes, customers can’t squeeze what you don’t have.

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