Skip to contents
Politics and Government

Jared Polis made a lot of promises in bid for governor. Here’s his progress on the 10 biggest.

The pledges the Democratic candidates made on education, health care, oil and gas and TABOR all rank at the top of his list

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks to reporters before signing House Bill 1177 on April 12, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
  • Credibility:

When he kicked off his gubernatorial campaign in July 2017, Jared Polis promised to campaign on “big, bold ideas.”

That’s one promise he would keep

In the following 16 months, Polis pitched voters on more than 100 policy ideas big and small, promising to remake health care in the state, usher in historic expansions of early childhood education and transition the state to 100% renewable energy. He also pledged to take on the sort of behind-the-scenes policymaking that won’t make headlines, like revamping grant programs and streamlining business regulations.

In all, The Colorado Sun has catalogued more than 125 promises, and will track them throughout his four-year term.

MORE: See the full database of Jared Polis’ promises from the 2018 campaign trail and the progress he’s making on them.

But ultimately, the Democrat’s governorship will be judged by whether he’s able to deliver on the big ones that came to define his candidacy, such as universal health care, full-day kindergarten and preschool.

Here are the 10 most significant promises Polis made, and how he’s doing so far.

This story will be updated when new information becomes available. Last update: June 7, 2019

The Promise: Universal pre-K and full-day kindergarten

Progress: Partial Credit

The Quote: “As governor, I will bring together a winning coalition to establish universal full-day kindergarten and preschool in every community across our state within two years.”

The Context: State-funded, full-day kindergarten was Polis’ top legislative priority in his first year, and he later amended his pledge to say he wants it to take effect by August 2019.

Right now, about 80% of kindergarten students attend full-day programs. The legislation that Polis signed into law is designed to expand the program and the budget provides $175 million to cover the cost. But it won’t be universal — at least not at first.

To start, the administration is anticipating 85% adoption across the state in the first year. In terms of universal preschool, the number of slots in Colorado is limited with a waitlist near 8,000. Polis hopes the new full-day kindergarten money will open 5,000 more spots for preschool. But the state legislature didn’t commit money to close the remaining gap.

In 2017, just 23% of Colorado 4-year-olds are enrolled in publicly funded preschool, and only 8% of 3-year-olds, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.

More is needed to completely fulfill his promise.

Date made: Nov. 15, 2017

Source: Education Plan, Polis for Colorado

The Promise: Universal, single-payer health care

Progress: No Movement

The Quote: “I will work with other Western states to tackle our shared health challenges. Together, we can pioneer a groundbreaking multi-state consortium to offer a universal, single-payer option out West.”

The Context: Next to education, health care ranks as one of the governor’s top priorities. In the campaign, he reiterated his support for a government-run plan known as “Medicare for All” and pledged to advocate for it as governor.

Polis also has promised to give everyone the option of joining a Medicare-like plan that would be administered and funded in a partnership with other Western states, or a stand-alone Colorado program. State lawmakers explored a pilot program to this effect, but later backed off.

Date made: Feb. 25, 2018

Source: Editorial, Aspen Times

The Promise: 100-day health plan

Progress: Broken

The Quote: “Lowering Health Care Costs for Families and Small Businesses: A 100-Day Roadmap … In Colorado, we can take real and immediate steps to cut the red tape that is aggravating the shortage of health care providers across the state and exacerbating the lack of meaningful competition and local access, and identify and address wasteful administrative burdens in Colorado’s fragmented health care system to reduce costs.”

The Context: On the campaign trail, Polis promised to take 10 “real and immediate steps” to reduce health care costs within his first 100 days of taking office. He made progress on some. But on most, he fell short of his deadline. Because he did not achieve his entire goal by the deadline he imposed, this is marked as a broken promise.

Here’s a full accounting — as of the 100-day mark in April — on where the items stand:

1. Strengthen the Division of Insurance consumer watchdog role — Partial Credit. To give the department more investigative authority, Polis could change its mission. The agency is playing a more active role, but so far there’s been no movement to add “real investigative and enforcement power,” as he promised. In March, he did sign a bill authorizing state audits of the health insurance exchange, which represents a step toward greater oversight of premium hikes and benefits.

2. Propose a statewide geographic rating with rural rate protections — Promise Broken. The Division of Insurance estimates that lumping the entire state into one insurance region would save rural customers 21% on premiums, but those on the Front Range would pay 9% more. To date, Polis has not announced a plan to consolidate the state’s 9 rating areas, nor has legislation been introduced.

3. Establish a reinsurance program — In Progress. Legislation to set up a reinsurance program passed the House on April 8, but it has to clear the state Senate before Polis can sign it into law. (Note: Polis later signed it into law, but not in his first 100 days.)

4. Make hospital visits more affordable with transparency — Partial Credit. Polis accomplished what he said he would within 100 days, signing a bill into law requiring hospitals to file annual financial reports to the state for analysis. Time will tell if it achieves the cost savings he promised.

5. End prescription drug price gouging — In Progress. Polis promised three tactics to tackle price gouging: importing prescription drugs from Canada, requiring pharmaceutical companies to disclose financial information and justify price hikes, and outlawing drug co-pays that are higher than sticker price. The Canadian drug proposal has passed the Senate, but still requires House approval to reach Polis’ desk. Legislation regarding price transparency and co-pays was introduced March 29, but is still pending. (Note: The drug importation bill and other prescription drug measures later won Polis’ signature, but they came after the timeline he outlined in the campaign.)

6. Reforming payment methods — In Progress. Technically, this has been in progress since before Polis took office. Under Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration, the state began a couple of ambitious payment and efficiency reform efforts called the Colorado Hospital Transformation Program and the Accountable Care Collaborative. Both seek to do what Polis hopes for here: linking health care payments to the quality of results, not just the quantity of services. By keeping a key player from the Hickenlooper administration, Kim Bimestefer, as the head of the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, Polis has helped ensure this work will continue.

7. End the doctor and provider shortage — Broken Promise. Polis said he would use economic development programs, such as the Greater Colorado Venture Fund, to incentivize health care providers to work in rural areas, eliminate burdensome regulations and look at a loan repayment program to boost mental health and substance abuse counseling. But he’s announced no movement on these issues, and legislation is pending.

8. Expand access to mental health treatment — Partial Credit. Polis announced the creation of a behavioral health task force in early April and the pending state budget includes additional money to pay providers. But the actions fall short of his proposals to study gun violence, enact opioid response recommendations, expand rural school-based health clinics and empower insurance regulators.

9. Support community organizing opportunities — In Progress. Polis is publicly promoting a program in Summit County to help lower the cost of health care, and his administration is helping to do the same.

10. End delays in Medicaid reimbursement — N/A. The Department of Health Care Policy and Financing reported in January that the delays in Medicaid reimbursements had been addressed by the time Polis took office.

Date made: Sept. 17, 2018

The Source: Health Care Roadmap, Polis for Colorado

The Promise: Reach 100% renewable energy by 2040

Progress: In Progress

The Quote: “We can reach 100% renewable energy by 2040 or sooner.”

The Context: When Polis talks about 100% renewable energy, he is referring to the state’s electric grid. As of 2016, the last year data was available, Colorado utilities generated just over 20% of their electricity from renewable sources — predominantly wind power — so the state has a long way to go.

But the state’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, already has plans to get to 55% by 2026. Polis won’t remain in office long enough to see whether he achieves one of his top campaign lines, but he can be evaluated on the efforts he makes to spur Colorado in that direction. So far, he has signed legislation to boost renewable energy, so he’s making progress.

Date Made: June 11, 2018

Source: Gubernatorial debate, 9News

The Promise: Give local governments more say in oil and gas drilling decisions

Progress: Partial Credit

The Quote: “It will be the challenge of the next governor to make sure we have the local-control framework in place to give our communities a seat at the table and make sure setbacks statewide are enough, objectively and scientifically, to protect our health and safety.”

The Context: Local control over oil and gas regulations was at the heart perhaps the most contentious bill of the 2019 session, Senate Bill 181. Polis signed the measure into law April 16. It allows local governments to regulate where drilling can occur and its impacts on public health and safety.

Today, all local regulation of the industry is preempted by state law. So far seven local governments put in place temporary moratoriums, a move Polis later called “thoughtful.” The new law may face legal challenges in the future, but for now it stands.

The current state setback from oil and gas operations is 500 feet from homes and 1,000 feet from schools. Polis has supported 2,000-foot buffers, and the state’s oil and gas commission could adjust them in forthcoming rulemaking. No action has been taken yet.

Date made: June 18, 2018

The Source: Democratic primary debate, sponsored by Denver7 and The Denver Post

The Promise: Build coalition and win approval at ballot box for TABOR reforms

Progress: In Progress

The Quote: “I will build a coalition on Day One with the business community, Republicans, independents and Democrats” to reform TABOR. … I’m confident that we can build that coalition to win at the ballot box, not just try and say we did but win.”

The Context: In the campaign, Polis promised to go to the ballot and pass initiatives to increase money for education and transportation. He also wants to reform the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, but preserve the ability of residents to vote on tax hikes

He’s supporting other efforts, including a timeout on revenue caps, but this statement goes further to say he will create a bipartisan coalition and win at the ballot box.

So far, he’s made partial progress by convening a stakeholders group before he even took office. It’s not clear who is a part of the group, though, and whether it meets the parameters he set. To fulfill this promise, he also needs to win at the polls.

Date made: June 5, 2018

Source: 9News debate

The Promise: Pass a ballot measure to increase education funding

Progress: No Movement

The Quote: “I will build a winning coalition to go to the ballot box and pass an initiative to better fund our schools and early education opportunities.”

The Context: In Colorado, ballot measure to increase spending are difficult to pass, and education proposals are no different. In 2013, then-Gov. John Hickenlooper and top lawmakers supported Amendment 66 to add $950 million in new money for K-12 education only to see it fail at the ballot. Whether Polis can fare better remains unclear.

In the final weeks of the legislative session, Polis put his support behind a nicotine tax and hike in tobacco taxes to raise money for early childhood education, but it failed. Polis still has time to try again, so this won’t count as a broken promise yet.

Date made: Nov. 15, 2017

Source: Education Plan, Polis for Colorado

The Promise: Raise new revenue for transportation

Progress: No Movement

The Quote: “As governor I will support and work alongside a diverse group of stakeholders of all geographic and political persuasions to ensure that we narrowly identify new sources of revenue and wisely invest where it’s needed most, such as relieving congestion across the state, improving rural roads, and fixing potholes that damage our vehicles and cause accidents.”

The Context: To identify new revenue sources, Polis is talking about going to the ballot to ask voter approval. But it may prove tough. Colorado voters in November rejected a proposal to raise sales taxes to finance transportation projects. Polis pledged in campaign literature and interviews to work on “better finance mechanisms” if the measure failed at the ballot box.

The need is great: $9 billion in state highway projects alone over the next decade, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. Lawmakers approved a bill to ask voters in November 2019 to permanently forgo taxpayer refunds and use some of the proceeds for transportation. But even if it passes, it may not generate much revenue.

Date made: January 2018

Source: Polis for Colorado, CPR News

The Promise: Better teacher pay and smaller class sizes

Progress: No Movement

The Quote: “As governor, I’ll take bold action: free preschool and kindergarten, better teacher pay, smaller class sizes.”

The Context: In a separate item, we address the issues of preschool and kindergarten. So this one looks at teacher pay and smaller class sizes. Colorado teacher pay ranks 31st in the country by one measure and as low as 44th if you adjust for the state’s cost of living. Meanwhile, the average Colorado public school has 17.6 students per teacher, according to the Colorado Department of Education. That, too, is worse than the national average of around 16.1 students per teacher, according to the most recent data available from the National Center for Education Statistics.

In Colorado, teacher pay and class size are largely set at the local level. Polis proposed — and lawmakers agreed — to provide more money for education, but it wasn’t tied to teacher pay or class size. Polis said he supports attaching strings to the money, but the state budget in his first year didn’t do it.

Date made: Sept. 29, 2018

Source: Polis for Colorado

The Promise: Eliminate tax breaks and reduce state income taxes

Progress: No Movement

The Quote: “We’ve looked at going after special interest tax giveaways — about $1.6 billion a year — reining them in, and using the proceeds to reduce people’s income tax by 3% to 5%.”

The Context: The Department of Revenue estimated in 2017 that Colorado gave out more than $6.6 billion in tax breaks on things like fuel and alcohol, sales and income taxes and tax deductions claimed by corporations. Lawmakers have long sought to reduce the amount the state spends on tax breaks, but haven’t made much progress.

Polis has singled out tax breaks for large retailers and pass-through businesses as likely targets, but the effort never got off the ground this legislative session amid opposition from Democrats, who say money saved on tax breaks would be better spent on public services.

Polis wants to lower the current income tax rate to 4.3% or 4.2% from 4.63%.

Date made: Oct. 17, 2018

Source: 9News debate


We believe vital information needs to be seen by the people impacted, whether it’s a public health crisis, investigative reporting or keeping lawmakers accountable. This reporting depends on support from readers like you.