DENVER • Gov. Jared Polis delivered his second State of the State address Thursday, speaking of those left behind by Colorado’s stampeding economy.
“From student loans to health care costs to unaffordable housing, Coloradans feel like they are running faster and faster, but not getting ahead,” Polis said in his speech. “Too many of our fellow Coloradans are anxious that one hardship — a job loss, a medical emergency, a recession, a natural disaster, or some other unforeseen challenge — will send them into a financial tailspin.
“There is a generation of older Americans who wonder when or even if they will be able to retire with dignity.”
He said stagnation was not in the state’s nature. Polis spoke of continuing the work started a year ago, including expanding access to preschool and taking steps to tackle climate change.
He peppered the address with suggestions to do more on school safety, rural economic development, industrial hemp, lower income taxes, public lands, jobs for veterans and student debt relief.
Polis also mentioned teacher pay. As Senate Republican leader Chris Holbert did Wednesday, the governor noted those wages are set by local school boards, not at the Capitol.
He said leaders could work on ways to unravel fiscal constraints — most often opposed by Democrats — such as the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and the Gallagher Amendment, which limit tax dollars flowing into education.
“When I speak with school leaders, they want to pay teachers better, but because of our fiscal rules, the state spends far too much money backfilling some of the wealthiest districts not only in the state, but in the country,” Polis said. “That is truly at the root of our school funding issues. Together, we can fix this systemic problem and finally raise pay for our hardworking educators.”
In the year ahead, Polis laid out such goals as supporting the aerospace industry to bolster the military and create well-paying jobs.
“When we realize that our fates are connected, and that we are better together,” Polis said, “we can solve any problem we encounter.”
The meandering, nearly 6,000-word address included congratulating not only the state’s first New Year’s baby, but the first two.
Polis noted both children would benefit from the $100 savings bond for newborns and adopted children courtesy of the Legislature last year.
He also took a dig at Republican President Donald Trump, citing “unprecedented hostility from this White House toward our immigrant and refugee communities.”
The remark drew a standing ovation from Democrats in the chamber and scowls from many of the Republicans, who remained seated.
Polis said the state stood with refugees and “Dreamers,” those brought to the U.S. as children whose immigration status was protected by President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals order in 2012. The Trump administration has tried to unravel the protections.
“In Colorado, we don’t build walls of exclusion,” the governor said. “We build ladders of opportunity for everybody.”
Rep. Dave Williams, R-Colorado Springs, took issue with the way the governor characterized the challenges facing state residents.
“Many Coloradans aren’t getting ahead because of the job-killing and economic burdensome regulations that Gov. Polis advances with other radical Democrats in the Legislature,” he said.
Mocking the governor’s “Colorado for all” slogan, Williams quipped, “Unless you’re an oil and gas worker or business owner.”
The outspoken conservative tore into Polis’ pronouncements and proposals, charging the Democrat with “signaling tax increases and TABOR violations” by promising universal preschool. He predicted the paid family leave proposal will “bankrupt business and cause a recession in Colorado.”
Polis met with some reporters in his office for about 10 minutes after the speech.
Despite his big, expensive programs while also calling for larger reserves, asking for $118 million, Polis couldn’t identify any types of spending he would reject, taking a wait-and-see posture.
“We submit a balanced budget,” he said of his requests for lawmakers to consider.
“We will sign a balanced budget. That’s obviously the law in Colorado.”
He said he would communicate with Democrats and Republicans on spending proposals “to make sure they’re good for Colorado.”
Polis also said he will continue to work on lower income taxes, which he said would be a permanent bipartisan cut to expect in the next legislative session.
Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, was sporting red sneakers as a “counterpoint” to the governor’s signature blue sneakers.
He applauded Polis for his plans to amend the tax code, which he said Republicans can get behind, and found it “striking” that no one on the Democratic side of the aisle expressed enthusiasm about it. The GOP supports Polis’ goals for equity and lowering health care costs, he added, but the opposition party differs on how to address the goals.
“Too expensive,” Rep. Rod Pelton, R-Cheyenne Wells, said after Polis finished speaking.
“We don’t have the dollars. And green renewable energy is actually not that clean, and it’s expensive, yet [Dems] keep pushing it down our throats.”
Tony Gagliardi, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, forecast the organization’s expectations for Polis’ speech ahead of the address.
On its wish list: fewer regulations, such as the family and medical leave program, which the NFIB opposed in the 2019 session, and reining in “runaway lawsuits.”
Paid leave appears to be at the top of the business group’s concerns. Gagliardi noted that 73% of small businesses already offer paid time off, and some get federal tax credits to do so. “More time is needed to study the issue or it should be abandoned,” he said.
NFIB would also like to hear something about legal reform, including action on “drive-by lawsuits” or private rights of action, he said.
A group of climate activists were set to rally on the Capitol steps while Polis delivered his remarks.
“There is a climate emergency and we need to starting acting in bold and meaningful ways,” the activists said in a joint statement. “We demand that our governor declare a climate emergency, immediately stop fracking operations at Bella Romero Elementary School in Greeley and put a pause on new permits, do everything possible to meet a net zero emissions goal of 2025, and ensure a just transition that prioritizes the marginalized populations suffering the most from climate injustice.”
Nearby, homeless people lined up their tents along the street in Lincoln Park near the Capitol. The courts have intervened in Denver’s urban camping ban, but homeless advocates have tried for years to get lawmakers to strike down such laws statewide.
“If the governor can’t hear us, at least he can see us,” said Mike Childers, who camped at the site and said he has been homeless in Denver for two years and testified in favor of failed legislation to repeal bans on homeless activity in years past.