Gov. Jared Polis provided a road map Tuesday for how he plans to spend his next four years leading Colorado as he was sworn into office for his second term.
“When you listen to enough folks, you realize that in many ways people across our state are asking for some of the same things in different ways: practical solutions to the rising cost of living in every corner of our state, safe communities, good schools, affordable access to health care, the opportunity to build a great life for yourself and your family and the freedom to forge your own path without the government telling you how to live your life,” Polis said in a speech delivered on the west steps of the Colorado Capitol.
He added: “I don’t think I’d be standing before you today if we hadn’t shown some real progress on delivering on different parts of this vision.”
Here are the top lines from the Democrat’s 2023 inaugural address:
Polis was busy during his first term. He signed into law bills reimagining Colorado’s oil and gas regulations, providing universal kindergarten access and targeting high health care costs.
The governor is still working out what his agenda will be over the next four years – it wasn’t clear until after the Nov. 8 election that he would continue to have a Democratic Legislature to work with – but his line about a long to-do list ahead suggests he plans to be as busy in the next four years as he was during the last four.
We know that affordable housing, water management and conservation, and economic development are top of mind for Polis.
The governor and Democrats in the Legislature started really prioritizing affordability in Colorado during the 2022 legislative session. They plan to continue making it a focus this year, though it’s not so clear how.
In 2022, the Legislature slashed and paused fees – several of them enacted by Polis and Democrats in prior years – and reshaped the tax code to try to lower Coloradans’ financial burden. The General Assembly isn’t planning to continue the vast majority of the fee relief, instead focusing on what Senate President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, called “structural problems.”
Affordable housing will be a big focus.
“For many people in our state, life is too hard and too expensive,” Polis said. “We’re going to reduce housing costs across Colorado with options for every budget to afford to live in communities where people work and want to live.”
The governor also promised “lower taxes, lower transportation costs, lower medical bills, lower business fees and, of course, lower housing costs.” He didn’t outline his detailed plans for accomplishing that hefty list of vows.
This was one of the most interesting lines of the governor’s speech.
There are many criminal justice activists in the Legislature now, including state Rep. Elisabeth Epps, D-Denver, who don’t want to see Colorado enact any new criminal penalties. Instead, they want to see more investment in behavioral health and drug treatment.
Polis wants those things, too, but he has also already called for the Legislature this year to beef up Colorado’s car theft statutes to combat the rising number of stolen vehicles across the state.
Republicans in the Legislature see tougher criminal penalties as the sole solution to Colorado’s rising crime rates. Polis appears to be walking a line between the sides.
This is a promise Polis made during his first gubernatorial campaign, in 2018. The governor has said the state has already “locked in” 80% renewable energy by 2030. But what steps the Legislature and the Polis administration will take to make the goal a reality remain unclear.
Liberal Democrats and Polis have clashed in recent years over policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change.
Polis also mentioned during his speech that Colorado has an “increasingly scarce water supply,” but he didn’t provide any specific plans on how to address that fact.
Polis’ first term was marked by a string of tragedies and hurdles, the biggest of which was undoubtedly the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic began a little over a year after Polis took office, forcing him to lead the state through a once-in-a-century global disaster, which is still unfolding. The governor shut down schools and businesses, asked people not to leave their homes and had to abandon at least a year of policy proposals at the Legislature as the state prepared for a sharp tax revenue decrease that never materialized.
Polis didn’t directly reference the pandemic and the upheaval it caused during his speech Tuesday, but it was clear that is what he was talking about.
Meanwhile, two tragedies hit close to the governor’s Boulder home during his first term. In March 2021, 10 people were killed in a shooting at a King Soopers grocery store in the Table Mesa neighborhood. Then, in December 2021, the Marshall fire destroyed more than 1,000 homes in Superior and Louisville.
Just weeks after his reelection, five people were killed and at least 17 others were wounded in a mass shooting at Club Q, a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs.
The state has also contended with several other record-breaking wildfires over the past few years, including the Cameron Peak, East Troublesome and Pine Gulch fires. A total of 6,761 wildfires burned more than 744,120 acres in Colorado in 2020 alone.
Addressing such emergencies over the past four years often distracted Polis and the Legislature from their aspirations. Polis acknowledged Tuesday the future always holds uncertainty.
Abortion and gun control.
Democratic lawmakers this year are expected to introduce legislation tightening Colorado’s gun regulations, including by enacting a waiting period between when someone can purchase a firearm and access that weapon and by raising the age at which someone can purchase a rifle or shotgun to 21.
The Legislature is also poised to expand who can petition a judge to order a temporary seizure of someone’s guns under what’s called the red flag law.
Some Democrats, including Epps, want to go even further by banning a host of semi-automatic weapons, a policy proposal the governor is likely to reject.
Democratic leadership in the Legislature also plans this year to shore up abortion access in Colorado, indicating reproductive rights will be a major focus of the General Assembly in 2023. The governor, however, did not mention abortion once during his inaugural address despite signing into law last year a measure enshrining nearly unfettered abortion access in Colorado.