Gov. Jared Polis laid out an ambitious, sweeping agenda Thursday in his first State of the State address before a packed joint session of the General Assembly, dominated by fellow Democrats swept into power Nov. 6 with the new governor.
Polis sketched out his intention to spread prosperity across Colorado and described the aggressive approach that his administration intends to take. The one-time tech entrepreneur used the word “bold” eight times in the 55-minute speech.
The former five-term Boulder congressman kept a tight focus on issues that were the focus of his campaign. Sporting his trademark blue sneakers on his second day in office, a relaxed Polis vowed to establish free full-day kindergarten statewide by this fall and announced the creation of a state office dedicated to cutting health care costs.
Declaring his intention to confront climate change “head on,” Polis said the state will “embrace the renewable-energy future” while protecting oil and gas workers.
And in a nod to the chamber’s Republicans, Polis called on lawmakers to lower the state’s individual and business income tax rates by closing loopholes written into the tax code.
“What makes Colorado unique isn’t just the boldness of our ideas,” Polis said. “It is the resilience and the spirit of our inspiring people, who make change happen, who truly bring bold ideas to life.”
Although Democrats control both chambers of the Legislature, with numbers in the House not seen since the 1950s, Polis asked for a bipartisan approach.
Recalling a conversation last summer with their young children about the differences among political parties — Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens — Polis said his son, Caspian, asked his daughter, Cora, what party she belongs to, and she responded: “The Happy Birthday Party.”
“It was one of those moments every parent experiences, where your child shows you wisdom you can’t get from most adults,” Polis said. “And I think there are times we would all rather be in the Happy Birthday Party. It’s wisdom that will guide our approach to problem-solving in this administration.”
What matters isn’t whether ideas come from Democrats or Republicans, he said, but whether they solve the state’s problems.
“This doesn’t mean any of us should abandon our values. What it does mean is that mere partisanship will never stop us from embracing good ideas or taking bold action for the people of Colorado, who elected us to deliver, not to grandstand.”
Before enumerating his proposals, Polis — the first openly gay man elected governor anywhere in the country and the state’s first Jewish governor — outlined his vision of a state standing athwart a coarse and divisive national mood.
“Here in Colorado, we treat each other with respect. We reject efforts to intimidate immigrant families or tear children from their parents’ arms,” he said as Democratic — and eventually Republican — legislators interrupted him with sustained applause. “We don’t tolerate bigotry or discrimination of any kind. And we don’t accept hostage-taking as a form of governance.”
After thanking lawmakers, members of his cabinet, dignitaries and family members — his parents and Marlon Reis, the state’s first gentleman — the new governor declared: “The state of our state is solid. It is strong. It is successful. It is daring. And it is bold.”
He credited lawmakers and tipped his hat to former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who led the state from the depths of a recession to one of the top economies in the country.
Then Polis described how he envisions making the state better.
His top priority for the 120-day legislative session will be to enable every school district to offer all-day kindergarten and expand access to free preschool. The state only funds half-day kindergarten, and some districts let parents pay for more.
Research shows that full-day kindergarten yields short- and long-term benefits, including improved academic achievement, earlier intervention for special-needs students and better high school graduation rates, said Polis, who served on the State Board of Education.
“Now it’s time for us to finally cross the finish line, to fund free, full-day kindergarten by August 2019. Let’s get it done.”
State Rep. Lois Landgraf, R-Fountain, said she agreed with his broad intention but diverged on the details.
“Who can argue with better education for children? Nobody,” Landgraf said after the speech. “But is it doable? What are the trade-offs?”
Free all-day kindergarten has a cost, said Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker, adding that Polis, fresh out of free-spending Washington, D.C., might not yet grasp that Colorado has to balance its budget every year.
“In Congress, they can deficit spend,” Holbert said. “How will we pay for those things labeled as free when they aren’t free? We have to pay for all of this out of the tax dollars we’re given.”
“We reject efforts to intimidate immigrant families or tear children from their parents’ arms.” Gov. Jarel Polis, State of the State address