COLORADO SPRINGS — Governor Polis, after the traditional escort and introduction from the Speaker of the House, changed traditions this year in his State of the State Address.
Instead of beginning his speech by acknowledging the dignitaries in the chamber, which he did go on to do, he asked the chamber to join him in a moment of silence for Colaradans who have lost their lives to COVID, violence, and natural disasters over the past year.
Governor Polis emphasized his gratitude for the people of Colorado, and for people "who have shown-up, day after day, in the face of trauma and under the most difficult circumstances, to help one another, to help our Colorado. Gratitude for the individuals who set aside their own personal challenges to support the needs of our community. Gratitude for my colleagues in this chamber who have put Coloradans first, no matter what. And gratitude, of course, for my family."
Governor Polis juxtaposed fear and hope, addressing the challenges presented to the state by COVID-19 and the wildfires, making a reference to the recent Marshall Wildfire that happened at the end of 2021.
He said that the term "wildfire season" no longer applies anymore, but then emphasized how Coloradans "are fundamentally good... care for one another, and... are tougher than anything thrown our way."
Governor Polis then took the opportunity to thank first responders, doctors, and those on the front line of the pandemic, who "actually save lives."
He gave special attention to the students of Central High School in Mesa County, who set up a series of vaccination clinics with help from their school staff.
Following these shoutouts, Governor Polis focused on pulling together to work for "Our Colorado." He said that "no one political party has a monopoly on good ideas and love of our country."
He then turned his focus to the future, describing his vision for the future of the state, where children get the "education they deserve," where a "multimodal transportation system meets the needs of our growing population," where all Coloradans have access to "affordable and quality health care," and where public lands are protected.
Governor Polis took time out to thank House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, House Representative 46 from Pueblo, who is completing her last legislative session this year. He credited her for her "partnership and tireless advocacy on behalf of Pueblo and all our hard-working state employees."
One of Governor Polis' focuses of the speech was on saving Colorado money, and he, after a brief nod to a Paul Simon song, said he will "be pushing for more than 50 ways to save Coloradans money."
He noted the increases in the cost of living in Colorado, saying that "Coloradans are desperate for relief."
He said that there needs to be a "double down" on the promise to help families and businesses succeed by taking less in taxes and putting more in paychecks.
Governor Polis promised to "use every single tool at our disposal to save hardworking Coloradans" money.
He noted work already done by his administration and legislators, saying that the Office of Saving People Money on Health Care, created early in his gubernatorial term, and a reinsurance program, are helping save Coloradans save significant amounts of money on their healthcare costs.
On education, Governor Polis discussed the bill that created free kindergarten in Colorado, and a focus on moving to implement free and universal pre-school by 2023.
Governor Polis touted a long list of accomplishments on tax relief, beginning with the Colorado Child Tax Credit, the doubling of the state Earned Income Tax Credit, and exempting social security earnings from the state income tax.
Governor Polis further emphasized his tax-cutting efforts with a focus on property tax cuts, and said he will continue to work to cut taxes and fees, but "never at the expense of teachers and law enforcement."
He noted that the tax reform package also permanently exempted small businesses from the business personal property tax, which he says means "real saving in time and money for nearly every main street business."
Governor Polis wants to add to these cuts as well, proposing that Colorado "reduce fees like the unemployment insurance premium and the Paid Family and Medical Leave premium." He also wants to make it free in Colorado for entrepreneurs to start their own business.
On transportation, Governor Polis praised a bipartisan group of officials around the state, including Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, for the successful effort in passing transportation reform.
Governor Polis said this bill means "we are finally going to fix the darn roads."
On housing, he began by highlighting his administration's effort that funded more than 14,000 units of affordable housing the past year, and said they are "ready to do more."
Polis said the state should also "capitalize on the once in a lifetime funding" provided by the American Rescue Plan Act to create more housing units and increase affordability.
In a return to his previous focus on saving Colorado's money, the Governor iterated his focus on making the state government "more efficient and effective," noting that his adminstration was on track to reduce the state's office space by 1 million square feet in the next 3 years, as well as by improving the state's digital services.
Governor Polis said his primary focus this legislative session, "if it isn't clear," is the state's affordability.
The mental health of kids and students around the state of Colorado has been a major issue, and Southern Colorado has seen its fair share. In the past few months schools around Colorado Springs have seen a number of threats, and one even led to the arrest of a student and their parents.
Governor Polis said his administration wants to work with local governments and school districts to help create a "responsible, effective approach to addressing behavioral health needs" for Colorado's kids.
He pointed out the new I Matter Program, which works to connect kids with mental health support. In the audience of the State of the State was a child and his mother who used the program to schedule an appointment to help him get the help he needed.
Governor Polis also took time out to discuss the impact the pandemic has had on learning in the state, and thanked school superintendents and public health leaders for their help in returning Colorado children back to the classroom.
To help with the return, Polis said his administration is providing free medical grade masks, and that over 2 million were already distributed, along with testing supplies and on-site vaccination clinics.
Governor Polis also gave a special shout out to the Cañon City School District, which received an increase in funding from the state and "will be able to compensate educators better," and "fund full-time mental health professionals and counseling staff."
Cañon City school counselors Brian Vaniwrden and Stacy Andrews were in attendance at the State of the State, and Governor Polis recognized them in his speech.
Governor Polis then turned to thank the state's healthcare workers, who he said the pandemic has been especially hard on. He touted the raising of the base wage for 30,000 Medicaid Home and Community Based Service Workers to $15 an hour.
He also proposed another cost-saving measure for healthcare workers in the form of waiving licensing fees for nurses and mental health care workers.
Governor Polis also emphasized the need to ensure that hospitals around the state maintain capacity to treat all Coloradans who need care, and he promised to propose a three year investment plan in the states healthcare workforce.
Governor Polis then pivoted to thanking public security officials around the state "who spend every day keeping us safe."
Governor Polis stated as one of his goals to make Colorado one of the ten safest states in the nation in the next few years, and he wants to do this through an investment into community policing, mental health services, early intervention grant, support for domestic violence victims, and safety improvements in schools and on the streets.
While the Governor emphasized prevention as being one of the most important ways to improve public safety, he also promised "the swift arm of justice" for drug dealers selling fentanyl around Colorado.
Governor Polis also wants the state to "put forward bigger and bolder solutions to reduce homelessness," saying the state knows what works but needs more of it. Among the efforts are affordable and transitional housing, substance use treatment, and support services.
Governor Polis took time out to focus on protecting the state's climate and air quality, and emphasized the need for action by pointing out the serious natural disasters that hit the state last year, such as the mudslides on I-70 and the three largest wildfires in Colorado history.
He promised that he is committed to protecting and improving air quality around the state by improving clean transportation options and by improving air quality monitoring and enforcement.
Governor Polis promised as well to protect another natural resource of Colorado, its water supply. He promised to continue to "protect and aggressively assert Colorado's water rights," and to update Colorado's water plan to make it more climate-resilient.
Governor Polis ended his speech by saying the main takeaway from his remarks should be his "optimism for the days ahead," and his commitment to "moving Colorado forward by saving people money, improving affordability, and making our state a better place for everyone."