COLORADO SPRINGS — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis discussed the "unimaginable" faced in the last year and looked to the future with the work needed to address education, transportation and affordable housing among other items in his State of the State address Wednesday morning.
The state has faced many challenges in the last year, including the ongoing pandemic, record-breaking wildfires, and the question of how to address "systemic discrimination against communities of color." In dealing with the pandemic, Polis stated the state has one of the highest vaccination rates and is seeing low transmission rates of COVID-19 in the country.
Moving forward, the governor called this year "an opportunity for rebirth" to invest in healthcare, education, and infrastructure. The governor focused on issues the state has been facing for decades and continues to face despite the challenges that have come about in the last year.
"We have a once in a generation opportunity to not just build back stronger than where we were before the pandemic, but fundamentally reimagine Colorado's future," he said.
Even before the pandemic, people across the most populous areas of Colorado have struggled to find affordable housing as our economy draws in people from out of state. Polis discussed his budget request to focus on transportation by repairing roads, investing in rural communities to allow more internet access, more affordable housing and reducing tax burden. He said he proposed eliminating the business personal property tax for small businesses and double the Earned Income Tax Credit to "provide up to $600 in tax credits" per child, per family.
The state's healthcare system has been "reimagined" when the pandemic first began, forcing the state to utilize telehelth for social distancing. The governor also addressed that the pandemic has shown "stark inequities" with Coloradans of color. Because of this, he said the state has set up 58 vaccine clinics for rural and underserved areas made possible with the Black and LatinX Caucuses.
With the wildfire season the state faced, Polis pointed out mitigation efforts is not the sole answer to the issue and focused on the renewable energy efforts being made to move toward the goal of 100% renewable energy by 2040.
"This past year we’ve been bruised, battered and shaken to our core -- but nevertheless the state of Colorado remains strong," the governor said.
The State of the State address normally takes place in January as the Colorado General Assembly convenes, however, this year's legislative session started just Tuesday. Members met in January for a special session to address COVID-19 specific bills.
The biggest priority once again this legislative session will be providing relief to families and businesses still suffering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
One item not addressed by the governor is continued disappointment and frustration in the response to unemployment claims across the state as the system struggles to keep up with legitimate claims and the unprecedented amount of fraudulent claims coming from outside the state.
The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment reports more than 1.1 million suspected fraudulent claims were filed so far since March 2020. Those outnumber the 1.04 million in legitimate claims, however, CDLE officials estimate fraud protection flags have prevented paying out roughly $7 billion to those behind the suspected fake claims. During recent unemployment town halls, many have expressed frustration on their claims being flagged as part of the system.