Gov. Jared Polis delivers the 2023 State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature in the House chamber at the state Capitol on January 17, 2023. (RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post, Pool)

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday delivered his fifth State of the State address to the Colorado legislature.

His speech lasted 1 hour and 10 minutes and touched on a broad range of topics, from climate change to affordable housing, water to public safety.

The Colorado Sun listened to and pored over the speech, annotating it to provide context and reaction from state lawmakers.

The transcript of the speech begins below.


GOV. JARED POLIS: To Speaker Julie McCluskie; President Steve Fenberg; Majority Leader Monica Duran; Majority Leader Dominick Moreno; members of the General Assembly, which for the first time in our history, is a majority women. By the way, that’s the first time in history, not the last time in history.

There are 50 women in the legislature and 49 men. There were supposed to be 51 women, but state Rep. Tracey Bernett, D-Boulder County, resigned on the first day of the 2023 legislative session as she faces criminal charges for allegedly lying about her residence to run for reelection last year in a more politically favorable district.

Bernett’s replacement will be chosen Saturday by a Democratic vacancy committee, and her successor may be a man, which would erase the woman majority in the General Assembly and make the gender split 50-50. Nationally, women make up 32.6% of state lawmakers, up from 10.8% in 1980.

In Colorado, they are 50.5% (for now) and in Nevada 60.3%. Six of the top 10 states for women lawmakers are in the West, though Wyoming is in the bottom 10 of state legislatures at only 22.2%.

Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera; Treasurer Dave Young; Attorney General Phil Weiser; Secretary of State Jena Griswold; our dedicated First Gentleman Marlon Reis; members of the State Board of Education; justices of the Colorado Supreme Court; members of the cabinet; and members of the Colorado Delegation to the 118th Congress of the United States:

Welcome.

Today our administration is standing on the threshold between the last four years and four years to come. We are middle-aged! But God willing, our mid-life crisis is past! I have a bit less hair than four years ago, but hopefully more wisdom and experience. We’ve gone through a lot these last four years, Colorado. COVID-19. Shootings. Devastating wildfires. Record inflation. Spiraling hate speech.

But Coloradans should know that no matter what comes our way, I’ll continue to fight everyday to protect our state.

Colorado is unique, we always have been. We are a state that just this year voted to cut the income tax again and legalize mushrooms.

True that. Colorado voters on Nov. 8 also agreed to allow grocery stores to sell wine, but objected to third-party alcohol delivery and letting retail liquor operators open more stores.

Polis never said how he voted on Proposition 122, which legalized the possession of “magic” mushrooms. He supported Proposition 121, which lowered the income tax rate to 4.4% from 4.55%.

Our state might be shaped like a square but the political pundits can’t put us in a box. They often label us whatever one color they see — red, blue, purple. Well, not so much red lately.

That zinger wasn’t in the governor’s prepared remarks, but it’s true. Democrats in the 2022 elections secured more sustained power in Colorado than they’ve ever had before.

Republicans will have to wait until the 2026 election before they get a shot at winning statewide office in Colorado again. And it’s highly unlikely they will win back either chamber of the legislature until then, too.

The political reality at the Colorado Capitol is that Democrats can do pretty much whatever they want in terms of policy. Their biggest hurdle may be their party’s internal disagreements about the direction of the state.

I see a harmonious rainbow of colorful opinions that make up our state of pragmatic Westerners. So as we start this new session, let’s not forget who we are. Let’s not get lost in zero-sum politics. And let’s focus on working together for real results.

We’ve seen the consequences of divisiveness and what happens when we retreat into silos and stop having productive conversations, and that’s not who we are as a state and as a people. With extreme partisanship grinding progress to a halt in Washington, it is more important than ever for us to lead the Colorado way.

That means showing up and coming together when duty calls. We dig in, we work through our differences. We get on to work through the thorny issues together, and we move forward, making important decisions and compromises in pursuit of real results and the best outcomes that improve our lives.

None of us in this chamber are here because it’s easy. We’re here because we believe in this work. We believe in a better tomorrow for our children. A Colorado for all.

This line drew applause from lawmakers and observers. Colorado for All was the theme of the governor’s inauguration last week. And Strong Colorado for All is the name of the state-level super PAC that supported Polis in his 2022 reelection bid.

As I stand before you today, I’m recommitting myself and my administration to bold ideas that move Colorado forward. To take on our greatest challenges with determination, with optimism, and including the voices of all Coloradans.

Together we will build on our success from these last four years, but we aren’t for one moment resting on them.

Like the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic, who won back-to-back MVP awards but continues to fight for that championship alongside his teammates on the Nuggets.

Or like Gandalf the Grey from “The Lord of the Rings,” who fought the Balrog through Moria’s underworld, helping Frodo escape, and then returned as Gandalf the White to help defeat Sauron’s army and give Frodo the chance to destroy the ring.

Polis is known for pop culture references in his State of the State addresses. This was the first, but definitely not the last, nerdy moment in this speech.

And like Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who created the hit show “South Park” and then one of the most successful Broadway musicals and now they’re tackling their greatest challenge of all — Casa Bonita — which we’re thrilled will be opening this May. I got a sneak peak last week. You all are gonna love it.

Parker and Stone first announced they were purchasing Casa Bonita during a video interview with the governor in August 2021.

What do these folks have in common? Jokic, Gandalf, Trey and Matt — I don’t think they’ve ever been mentioned before in the same paragraph — all Colorado believe the next chapter is the best one — and I do too. Colorado’s best days are still to come.

Three years from now, in 2026, we will proudly celebrate our Centennial State’s 150th birthday and the United States of America will celebrate its 250th birthday. The words we need to learn, by the way, are sesquicentennial for Colorado and semiquincentennial for America.

Thanks to Sen. Rachel Zenzinger and Rep. Marc Catlin who shepherded the legislation to create the America 250-Colorado 150 Commission, ensuring we make this a celebration for the ages, honoring our past, present and future.

Colorado celebrates 150 years of statehood in 2026, so we have some time to think about it. That will be the last full calendar year of Polis’ second and final four-year term as governor.

But really it is all of us who will decide what we are celebrating, because we are the living heritage of our state and together we are the architects of its future. As we prepare to mark this historic milestone, we must ask ourselves: How can we learn to correctly pronounce sesquicentennial and semiquincentennial correctly? Just kidding, though we do need to do that.

We should ask ourselves:

  1. Who do we as Coloradans want to be in our 150th year?
  2. How can our work now and over the next couple of years make that Colorado possible?
  3. And, finally, how can Colorado’s example shine a bright light for the nation?

Polis is a potential 2024 presidential candidate should President Joe Biden decide not to run for reelection. This line was one of several in the governor’s State of the State address that seemed to hint at White House ambitions.

In Colorado, we’ve already taken action to protect our freedoms and we’ve protected a woman’s right to choose.

That line about abortion drew huge applause from Democratic lawmakers. And none from Republicans.

Democrats in the legislature plan to take steps to boost abortion access in Colorado after guaranteeing the right to the procedure last year. But this was Polis’ only mention of abortion in his speech.

We’ve built a world-class voting system to ensure that every Coloradan can have their voice heard through our election process.

Joining us today is Secretary of State Jenna Griswold, a champion for voting rights and access.

We also fight for every person’s right to be who they are and love who they love.

Polis is the first openly gay governor in the nation and married his longtime partner, Marlon Reis, in fall 2021.

Colorado’s constitution, however, still defines marriage as between a man and a woman. It’s possible the legislature could ask voters to change the language as soon as 2024.

Same-sex marriages are still allowed in Colorado and across the country under federal law.

We believe in freedom of the press and freedom of speech. And we defend everyone’s right to live their lives in our state with dignity and respect.

In Colorado, we lead by example, enshrining these values in what we say and what we do. By the time America is 250, we hope for a country that also respects freedom, the personal health decisions of women, transgender Americans and all Americans. We want secure, accessible elections for every voter in our country, not just Colorado voters. And, of course, we must secure our borders and fix our inhumane, broken immigration system.

People have always come to America, as my own great grandparents did, in search of freedom, safety and economic opportunity, often escaping brutal oppression from authoritarian, communist dictators like Maduro in Venezuela. But we, as a country, haven’t always lived up to those values.

We are doing our part in Colorado to support migrants, and a special thanks to the city of Denver, Larimer County and so many nonprofits including Papagayo, Vive Wellness and The American Friends Service Committee, for being great partners in making sure everyone who comes to our through our state is treated in the most humane way possible. Some of these service organizations are here with us today, please join me in thanking them.

But we don’t want to waste this opportunity with our members of Congress here. We need our federal government to act. The time is now.

Polis took heat in recent weeks after Democratic mayors in New York City and Chicago complained about how he was busing migrants to their cities, even comparing him to Republican governors in Texas and Florida.

The governor responded that Denver was not the final destination for the vast majority of the migrants and that the state was simply helping them get to cities where they had friends or families. Still, Polis stopped the practice following the complaints. Last week, the city of Denver said it had purchased commercial bus tickets for 1,900 migrants.

Finally, we’ll note that immigration isn’t a state issue. This was another hint at the governor’s presidential ambitions. “I certainly know that there’s not a lot our state can do,” Polis told reporters later in the day Tuesday. “I support real border security and comprehensive immigration reform. We’ve got to find a way where we can make sure that people who are here — who we need, who will fill jobs — are able to get their work permits expeditiously to fill the jobs they need to support their families. We’ve got to secure the border. We’ve got to crack down on not just the illegal flow of people through human trafficking, but also on the illegal flow of fentanyl and other drugs across our southern border.”

We are proud to be joined today by Reps. Joe Neguse and Jason Crow, as well as our two newest: Rep. Brittany Pettersen and Rep. Yadira Caraveo. Welcome back to both of you.

Colorado can help shape our country’s quest to become a more perfect union by setting a bold pace of progress, fighting for liberty, and delivering on our promises to improve the quality of life.

So when Colorado is 150 years old, who do we want to be?

I’m sure many of us have been asked that dreaded question, “where do you see yourself in five years?” I often ask it when I’m interviewing people for jobs. It can be a tough question. But when it comes to the future of our state, it’s also a powerful question that we should ask ourselves. Let’s start with housing.

Many Coloradans are struggling to find a place where they can afford to live. Many more are being forced out of their neighborhoods with no hope of ever living close to where they work. That means more traffic, lost time and money spent on long commutes, more air pollution, and greater economic and workforce challenges.

This is far beyond just a local problem. Since issues like transportation, water, energy, and more inherently cross jurisdictional boundaries, it becomes a statewide problem that truly impacts all of us.

We need an approach that creates more housing now, protects Colorado resources and reduces sprawl. It’s clear that the actions of just one jurisdiction impact others, especially when it comes to housing, our environment, transportation systems, roads and transit, water and sewer infrastructure, and indeed our economic prosperity and growth.

Frankly, Coloradans see it that way too and we are here today to provide some relief. The people of Colorado expect us to deliver on making housing more affordable. And if we don’t act now, we will soon face a spiraling point of no return.

Affordable housing was the focus of Polis’ fifth State of the State address and has been a constant refrain in Colorado, especially in mountain communities where homes and condos are more valuable to their owners as short-term rentals than permanent housing for people who keep the local economy spinning.

Voters in November OK’d Proposition 123, which directs the state to set aside $300 million a year for affordable housing projects, which may help. Lawmakers passed a bill in 2022 providing $40 million a year in loans to help support the development of manufactured housing factories or expand them. All the while, local communities are using tools that exist and developing some of their own to create housing that helps recruit and retain people whose work is crucial to the health of towns and cities, including teachers, cops and nurses.

The biggest battle, however, likely will be for inclusionary zoning. Some of the most pitched fights we’ve seen fought in the past year had to do with ire over affordable housing being proposed adjacent to market-rate neighborhoods.

Just look West. In California, decades of poor planning has led to interruptions of drinking water and electricity for entire towns and cities, average home prices over a million dollars in major cities, and 16-lane freeways —I had to look this up I didn’t believe it —yes 16-lane freeways with bumper-to-bumper traffic.

We are not California, we are Colorado.

Republicans often complain that Colorado is becoming too liberal and, thus, appearing more and more like California. Senate Minority Leader Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, said that businesses are already passing over Colorado for their expansion plans and conferences because they think it’s too much like California.

“I know conferences and businesses that have specifically taken a pass on Denver,” he said. “Our concern, I think every Coloradans’ concern, is we don’t want the rest of Colorado to have the same reputation as Denver.”

Meanwhile, there are many Democrats in the legislature who would probably love to see Colorado adopt more of California’s policies, especially around climate and the environment.

When Colorado is 150 years old, we need our state to have more housing for every Colorado budget, close to where jobs are. You know, the last time Colorado made major land use changes was in 1974 — before I, and most of you, were born. We were a different state then.

Over the last half-century — there’s a few people giggling because they were born before 1974. But I did look it up, a majority of you were born after 1974. Over the last half-century, housing prices have increased roughly four times the rate of income. That means a house today costs over four times as much compared to today’s income levels than 60 years ago, putting the dream of homeownership out of range for more and more Coloradans. And this has got to stop.

We need to bring our land use policy into the 21st century and prepare ourselves for success these next 150 years.

We need more housing now. It’s simple supply and demand.

Zoning and land-use policy is slated to be the centerpiece of Democrats’ affordable housing work this year at the Colorado Capitol. “It’s probably going to be a package of different policies,” said Senate President Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat. “But, yes, zoning is probably the biggest one. If you’re controlling what you can put on a piece of land, obviously that dictates so much. If you make a decision, you have to live with it potentially for generations.”

Fenberg added that growth limits and trying to increase density near transit areas are also key focuses for Democrats this year.

Municipalities and counties are already lining up in opposition to the legislature passing a bill getting involved in zoning, which has mostly been a local issue. Republicans aren’t too keen on the idea, either. “I can just tell you from my experience (at the Capitol) and from being a county commissioner that most of the legislators don’t have a clue what goes on with regard to land-use planning,” said Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, a Brighton Republican. “I’m pretty sure that people who live in those communities, in those counties and those municipalities, are not happy to hear the governor say he should plan their community instead of them.”

By the way, these aren’t new ideas. In fact the Good Book offers similar urban planning advice in Isaiah 54:2-3. “Make your tent bigger, stretch them out and make them wider, do not hold back. Make the ropes longer and stakes stronger, because you will spread out to the right and to the left, and your children will live again in cities that were once abandoned.”

Let us heed the words of Isaiah in our time. It’s time to legalize more housing choices for every Coloradan and give homeowners more freedom, revitalize our cities and towns, and protect the character of our state, our open space and our wild areas.

Polis has pushed for cities and counties to allow for more housing density, including by signing off on the creation of accessory-dwelling units, also known as “granny flats,” which are secondary dwelling structures on a residential property, someone in lieu of or on top of a garage.

Together we can truly get this done.

We can be a place where people live where they want to live — close to their jobs, close to their kids’ schools, with efficient, low-cost transit. We can save Coloradans money on housing and that will help us achieve our climate and environment goals!

Building smart, efficient housing statewide, especially in urban communities and job centers, won’t just reduce costs, it will save energy, conserve our water, and protect the lands and wildlife that are so important to our Colorado way of life.

It will also support an exciting vision for public transit options, create low-cost ways to travel that gives Coloradans more choices and leads to more breathable air and less traffic for all of us.

Together we have laid the foundation for a statewide road and transit system that meets the needs of Coloradans with the historic investments from Senate Bill 260, and then with the creation of the Front Range Rail District, scheduled to deliver a draft service plan by 2024.

Thank you to President Fenberg, Sen. Faith Winter and Sen. Zenzinger, for your leadership on those bills.

Senate Bill 260 enacted new transportation fees in Colorado, including on gasoline and diesel purchases, deliveries and rideshare rides. The measure has already generated tens of millions of dollars for transportation projects.

Republicans objected to the fees and there is an active lawsuit from conservative groups seeking to invalidate the charges.

As for the Front Range Rail District, it was created through legislation passed in 2021 as a way to ask voters who live in the district to increase taxes or approve bonding to pay for the multibillion-dollar cost of creating a Front Range passenger rail system. So far, though, no ballot measure has materialized and Front Range passenger rail remains more of a dream than a concrete plan.

Over the next few years we will continue working toward that vision, and I am asking CDOT to work with local transit partners to identify and take the next steps towards better, low-cost transit options.

More housing now is for people, for the planet, and for prosperity. It’s for people who need a roof over their head and who want to recognize the dream of home ownership and wealth building.

It’s for the planet to reduce our emissions and save water. And it’s for our prosperity as a state to ensure that businesses can hire people to power our economy forward.

Let me be clear — Housing policy is climate policy.

Housing policy is transportation policy.

Housing policy is economic policy.

Housing policy is water policy.

Housing policy is public health and equity policy.

It impacts every part of our lives, and it’s so critical that we get this right. We need everyone to come to the table and work toward a real solution.

Now I know this won’t be easy. As I like to say, if it was easy it would be done already. But in Colorado, we don’t shy away from tough challenges; we roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Since 2019 we have invested billions of dollars into housing. We created the first ever dedicated funding source for affordable housing and put American Rescue Plan Act dollars — thank you members of Congress — we applied it toward projects around the state of Colorado. Now, voters have passed Proposition 123 to dedicate hundreds of millions of dollars in the coming years. But we can’t just buy our way out of this. We have to break down government barriers, expand private property rights, and reduce regulations to actually construct more housing to provide housing options at a lower cost so that all Coloradans can thrive.

Polis didn’t elaborate on what he meant in this section of his speech. The legislature is still figuring out which bills it plans to pursue this year.

Some Democrats want to repeal Colorado’s prohibition on local rent-control policies. It’s not clear where the governor stands on that issue.

We took a first step to break down those barriers and support local innovation with House Bill 1271. I want to thank Speaker McCluskie, Rep. Iman Jodeh, and Sen. Julie Gonzales for their important work on that bill.

One of the grants from that bill went to support the city of Greeley, which utilized funding to encourage different types of housing, including homes with a smaller footprint, options for accessory dwelling units, manufactured homes, micro homes and more. They are also creating more home ownership opportunities in partnership with Habitat for Humanity.

Today we’re joined by Greeley City Manager Raymond Lee and his team. Thank you for your work. By the way, Greeley is growing fast. They are coming for you, Mayor John Suthers and Mayor Mike Coffman.

We’re seeing this kind of local innovation and leadership in other parts of the state, as well.

Summit County and the Town of Breckenridge are building a new 52-unit workforce apartment complex near downtown Breckenridge to make it easier for workers to find a place to live in their own community.

Projects like this typically take 18 to 24 months just to get approved, but thanks to Summit County donating the land and the leadership of local officials, this one got the greenlight after just six months, leading to 52 new homes years ahead of schedule with millions of dollars in savings. From Breckenridge we are joined by Mayor Eric Mamula, members of the town council, and Senior Planner Laurie Best.

From Summit County we are joined by Commissioners Tamara Pogue, Elizabeth Lawrence and Joshua Blanchard, and Housing Director Jason Dietz.

Please join me in welcoming them here all today.

Thank you for your will to help us solve this critical issue for your county and an issue and a challenge that we share in many other parts of the state.

But the innovation and savings don’t end there.

Because Summit County is partnering with modular home company Fading West out of Buena Vista, they are saving roughly 20% on construction costs and saving months of construction time, especially during the winter season. If you can believe it, Fading West can build a home in roughly 18 working days, compared to close to a year for traditionally built homes. I had the chance to visit their factory in November, and it’s exciting to see this innovation at work.

Fading West is Colorado’s go-to company for innovative, affordable housing projects.

The Buena Vista company is currently manufacturing 25 houses for the Pinion Park neighborhood in Norwood near Telluride, plus a few homes expected to ease the teacher housing shortage in Kiowa, on the Eastern Plains.

Today, we’re joined by Fading West CEO Charlie Chupp and Vice President of Sales and Strategic Partnerships Eric Schaefer. They and other modular home and prefabricated home companies are innovating to build more housing opportunities quicker and at a lower cost to help more Coloradans have security in their homes. We’re excited to have them join us today.

But, listen, the reality is that projects like these are often the exception in our state, not the rule.

The more common scenario, we’ve all heard this many times, is when housing projects are rejected or mired in years of red tape — adding costs and time.

I’m here asking you to help protect the Colorado we love, so Coloradans can stay in our communities and live near where they work, protect our open space, reduce traffic. Let’s make sure Colorado stays Colorado.

That means that we need more flexible zoning to allow more housing, streamlined regulations that cut through red tape, expedited approval process for projects like modular housing, sustainable development, building in transit-oriented communities that in and of itself empower the ability to deliver more transit at a low cost.

Of course, we also recognize that the state itself must be a contributing partner in this work, so we are aggressively making parcels of state-owned land available for housing in all parts of the state. One example is the Dowd Junction project in Vail Valley, where we are planning to build 80 units of workforce housing on state land. My budget includes funding for other governments and public land owners including counties, school districts, cities, and transportation districts to proactively partner with the private sector to build more housing, and I call on all of these public land owners to join our efforts and be part of the solution.

We also want to continue our work to reduce property taxes for Coloradans.

Last year, thanks to your work, we saved Coloradans more than $700 million through historic property tax relief for homeowners and businesses, while protecting funding for schools thanks to the work of Sen. Chris Hansen and Rep. Mike Weissman. But residential values grew more than 26% over the last two years, much more than most people’s incomes grew during that same period. If we don’t act, property taxes will go up by hundreds, even thousands, of dollars at a rate faster than people’s incomes.

Polis is asking the legislature to provide another $200 million in property tax relief to Coloradans across 2023 and 2024, adding to the $700 million break approved by the General Assembly during that time frame last year.

It’s not clear whether the legislature, which has a limited budget, will be amenable to all of that spending, which will come in the form of repayments to schools and local governments that are funded by property taxes. It’s also unclear how the $200 million in relief would be offered, though Polis has said it may be through a reduction in property assessment rates, which are set by the legislature.

The governor has called for a long-term solution to Coloradans’ rising property tax bills, but he hasn’t publicly offered any ideas. Property tax policy may be one of the most contentious and complicated debated the legislature takes up this year.

The good news is Colorado is a great place to live. The bad news is the secret is out and that’s driven up home prices.

We must work together to pass a long-term property tax relief package that reduces residential and commercial property taxes and creates a long-term mechanism to protect homeowners from being priced out of their homes, while protecting school funding. This will make Colorado more competitive and, yes, more affordable to live.

I’m proud that this year, Colorado is the first state in the country where every homeowner can defer paying some of these increases in the increase in their property taxes until their property is sold. No one should lose their home simply because its value, and the property taxes, have gone up. I want to thank Colorado Treasurer Dave Young for his tireless work to help property owners and I look forward to finding opportunities to extend deferrals to save people money on property taxes.

We should also make the senior homestead tax exemption portable. Our seniors should be able to downsize without having to pay higher property taxes, freeing up their larger old homes for young, growing families.

The senior homestead property exemption offers qualifying seniors a property tax exemption on the first $200,000 of actual value of their primary residence.

To qualify, a homeowner must be at least 65 years old and must have occupied their home as a primary residence for at least 10 consecutive years.

Therefore if seniors move, they lose the benefit, which incentivizes them to stay in their properties and not downsize.

It just makes sense.

A more just tax system that promotes prosperity for all is a passion that I think we all share in this chamber. While we don’t always agree on the path, I know all of us want to save Coloradans money.

It’s no secret that I, and most economists, despise the income tax.

The governor has advocated for eliminating Colorado’s income tax, which is the largest source of revenue for the legislature’s general fund. He has said he wants to replace the lost dollars with new taxes, such as on pollution, but he hasn’t provided a concrete plan.

Polis first began aiming to cut income taxes in 2019, his first year as governor. It didn’t work. But conservative nonprofits have successfully asked voters to reduce the state income tax twice during his term. And they’re likely to do it again.

Polis has not actively campaigned in support of income tax rate cuts, but he has subtly cheered them on.

I was proud to support two successful income tax cuts at the ballot box and since I took office our income tax rate has gone from 4.63% to 4.44%, helping produce strong economic growth and low unemployment. We have worked together to close special interest tax loopholes to pay for that income tax cut and provided even greater tax relief to Colorado families, seniors and small businesses.

Polis has not been responsible for income tax rate reductions in Colorado since he took office. As we mentioned above, they have been thanks to conservative groups’ ballot measures. There was only a spattering of halfhearted applause for this line.

And Republicans weren’t too happy to hear the governor taking credit for their work.

“I think the governor is gaslighting Colorado is and that he needs to stop doing that,” Kirkmeyer said.

Last year we also worked together to send every tax filer $750 nearly a year ahead of schedule, providing real inflation relief just when people needed it the most. Together, we can and should do more.

Polis and Democrats in the legislature made a change to how the state refunds money in excess of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights cap on government growth and spending, which made the refund checks possible. The cap is calculated using inflation and population rates.

But it’s important to note that Democrats were not responsible for the refunds. They are mandated under TABOR, a 1992 constitutional amendment backed by Republicans and which Democrats have fought for decades. In fact, Polis and Democrats tried to do away with the cap — and, thus, the refunds — through a ballot measure in 2019. But the initiative, Proposition CC, was widely rejected.

I don’t expect that we can fully eliminate the income tax by our 150th anniversary, but let’s continue to make progress.

Republican Heidi Ganahl, Polis’ 2022 opponent, proposed completely eliminating the income tax during her campaign. But she never really said how she’d replace the $11 billion that tax brings in to fund the state. (And neither has Polis.)

“I think that suggesting we need to further reduce the income tax misses the point that we are still struggling to adequately fund our schools, not to mention housing, higher education, mental health and a variety of other priorities for the state but also we have to ask the question of: ‘tax cuts for whom?’” said Democratic Rep. Chris deGruy Kennedy, of Lakewood, following the governor’s speech.

Minority Leader Mike Lynch, R-Wellington, had a different response. “I think the governor is right on track, bring it down to zero and he’s going to have 19 people behind him wholeheartedly,” he said, referencing the 19 members of the House GOP caucus. “Those reductions are crucial, especially right now. People need to keep money in their pocket. And that will stimulate the economy.”

With healthy budget surpluses from our strong economy, we should further reduce the income tax rate for everyone while doubling down on relief for working families with policies like expanding the earned income tax credit. We have the tools to save people money. Let’s get it done.

Colorado lawmakers next year will likely have to wrestle with how to handle Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights refunds after voters in November slashed the income tax rate, eliminating one of the state’s three reimbursement mechanisms. State law requires lawakers to slash the income tax rate to 4.5% when the TABOR cap on government growth and spending is exceeded by more than the amount it takes to reimburse local governments for any property tax exemptions claimed by local seniors and disabled veterans. This year, that is projected to be $161 million of the more than $3.5 billion in TABOR cap excess.

But in November, voters approved Proposition 121, which permanently cut Colorado’s income tax rate to 4.4% from 4.55%, making the income tax TABOR refund mechanism moot since the rate is now below 4.5% The legislature could opt to create a new income-tax-rate-reduction refund mechanism — and it seems like Polis would like that — but many Democrats and liberal fiscal policy groups think that’s a bad idea because they don’t like how income tax rate reductions benefit higher earners more than lower income Coloradans.

“I think if we have a budget surplus, it means that our taxes are too high,” Polis said, “So we should simply reduce our taxes so that we don’t have that kind of surplus.”

Making our state more affordable and creating more housing now is also one of the most effective ways to reduce homelessness in our state. We continue seeking proposals from local governments to utilize the $200 million that this legislature invested last year to reduce homelessness. Thank you to Reps. Steven Woodrow and Alex Valdez, and Sens. Gonzales, Hansen, Rhonda Fields and James Coleman for your work securing this transformative funding. Once again thanks to our federal delegation for (securing the funding). There are many creative approaches that have worked in other states, and we hope to see those proven data-driven models replicated here to reduce homelessness.

This is going to be a lot of work, and it’s going to take all of us in this chamber and our partners in local government to get this done. We are here to solve the big problems, and the cost of housing tops that list for so many Coloradans.

This is what Coloradans are calling for, and it’s up to us to take action to protect our shared future as a state.

Just as the future of our state is tied to housing, it’s also tied to water. Water is life in Colorado and the West. It’s as simple as that. But we’re at a crossroads.

Increased demand, chronic and extreme drought, conflicts with other states, and devastating climate events are threatening this critical infrastructure — and we’ve already seen the impacts. Wildfires have destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres, and devastated entire communities.

Farmers and ranchers across the state fear that Colorado won’t have the water to sustain the next generation of agricultural jobs.

When Colorado is 150, I want our state to have the water resources for our farms, communities, and industries to thrive, and the tools in place to protect our state’s waterways and defend our rights.

Colorado provides water for states to the west and to the east and there are threats from both directions. The Colorado River, which starts in Rocky Mountain National Park, is unable to supply the millions of people who depend on it.

Attorney General Phil Weiser has created a water-focused legal team help enforce the distribution rules of the Colorado River Compact. To the east, it’s Nebraska that is a worry, threatening to build a canal inside Colorado’s borders to capture South Platte River water.

Your work on housing will truly go a long way to protect water — our most precious resource. But we must also continue investing in water projects across the state.

We don’t want to see a single dollar left at the table.

For every dollar the state invested in Water Plan grants last year, we got four dollars back. In the last fiscal year, we awarded more than $23 million in grants that supported about $100 million in projects, and we’re hoping to position Colorado to punch above our weight and pull down major investments from the federal government around needed water infrastructure.

This includes funding for water quality projects like the Arkansas Valley Conduit. This project has been years in the making, and the combination of state and federal funding is helping to get it off the ground, delivering clean drinking water to dozens of communities throughout southern Colorado.

These dollars also translate to restoration of critical streams and waterways, greater access to water for our farmers and ranchers, and water security for our communities.

But the most important thing we can do for water security is protect our waterways and rights. Hotter, drier conditions have strained our resources at a time when demand continues to grow.

Our rivers and streams aren’t just life sources for Colorado, but for the entire American West. We must continue to fight for our rights and lead the way to a sustainable future.

Colorado is already battling Nebraska over water. The west’s water crisis may define Polis’ second term.

The road ahead will be paved with challenges, but we aren’t leaving anything to chance. We are gearing up, and bringing in the expertise we need to defend what is ours.

This is about water, but it’s also about our future, our livelihoods and the very foundation of what we need for our success as Coloradans.

The same goes for our approach on climate action and clean air.

We have already secured more than 80% renewable energy by 2030. By the time Colorado is 150 years old, we look forward to having a clear path to 100% renewable energy by 2040.

Polis ran his first gubernatorial campaign, in 2018, on a promise to make Colorado run on 100% renewable energy by 2040. It’s unclear how he will get the last 20% done.

Check out this story on the progress that has been made and the hurdles that remain.

And we will get it done. We will work to make progress towards our statewide climate goals.

Our work around housing, once again, and more sustainable development is a key part of this progress on climate. But we also remain focused on investing in clean transportation, accelerating the use of renewables, reducing oil and gas emissions, and holding polluters accountable.

We are proud to put forward $120 million annually in a new, clean energy tax credit package.

The governor has asked the legislature this year to approve new and expanded tax credits for electric vehicle and bike purchases. Under the proposal, the credit for electric vehicle purchases would rise to $5,000 from $2,000.

Some Democrats at the Capitol want to go further by offering tax credits for the purchase of electric lawn equipment.

With this tax relief and incentives, we can improve our air quality, accelerate innovation, and make more rapid progress towards our goals, while saving people money at the pump, on their utility bills, and increasing access to clean, low-cost transportation options.

We’re making a lot of progress on electric vehicles, with 10% of vehicles sold now electric — that ranks us fifth in the nation — and these tax credits will help us continue pushing towards more zero-emission cars and trucks sooner rather than later in the state of Colorado.

The Colorado Automobile Dealers Association on Tuesday offered details. In the fourth quarter of 2022 new vehicle registrations declined 13.1% from the same quarter of 2021, but EV, plug-in hybrid and hybrid registrations were up 7.2% over the same period. Add together the total number of electric and plug-in hybrids sold — both are considered low-emission vehicles under state rules — and you’re at 10.5% of vehicles sold.

It’s a significant benchmark. But CADA said dealers could have sold even more EVs if manufacturers were supplying the inventory. Sales will have to keep climbing sharply for the state to meet its goal of nearly 1 million EVs on the road by 2030.

This builds on the work of the legislature to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and Colorado’s Child Tax Credit, putting more money back into the pockets of Coloradans. Thank you to Reps. Emily Sirota and Mike Weissman, Senator Chris Hansen and Majority Leader Dominick Moreno for bringing those bills across the finish line.

We are also focused on the continued development of clean energy technologies of the future including geothermal and hydrogen.

As chair of the bipartisan Western Governors Association, I am championing geothermal energy through our “Heat Beneath our Feet” initiative. And I’m excited that my budget request provides funding for Colorado Mesa University to expand campus-wide geothermal heating and cooling systems, to help them achieve their goal to become the first university in America to be fully powered by geothermal heating and cooling.

President Marshall who is with us ran the numbers and tells us they’re about 70% at heating and cooling through geothermal now. It actually translates directly into about 2% lower tuition for their students with the money that would have gone to heating and cooling costs.

And under the leadership of unbreakable Will Toor our Energy Office leading the way with a multi-state consortium with Utah, Wyoming, and New Mexico to gain additional federal investment as a hydrogen hub.

Toor and his wife, Mariella Colvin, took a gnarly, 1,000-foot fall in July while climbing a couloir in Rocky Mountain National Park. They both suffered serious injuries and Toor had to be rescued by a helicopter after the accident.

Toor uses a walking stick now and had a hip replacement because of the fall.

Thanks again to the members of our federal delegation and we look forward to your help in securing the selection of our four states as a hydrogen hub.

These efforts will help us capitalize on these untapped resources, close the 20% gap to truly achieve 100% renewable energy by 2040, reduce emissions, clean our air, and do our part on climate.

This will also help us prevent the kind of spikes in utility bills that Coloradans are experiencing due to high costs of natural gas. The Texas storm in 2021 showed us just how vulnerable we are to commodity price swings, and the Suncor shutdown is showing us the same.

Customers of Xcel Energy are experiencing bill shock.

The company warned in the fall that utility bills were likely to balloon and the prediction came true, as the result of multiple rate increases the Colorado Public Utilities Commission allowed, including passing on of the cost to purchase highly expensive natural gas on the open market during Winter Storm Yuri in 2021.

The Suncor refinery in Commerce City, where as much as 40% of the gasoline used daily in Colorado is produced, is shut down likely until the end of March. Prices at the pump are about 53 cents higher per gallon today than they were a month ago, when the plant shut down, according to AAA.

I’m committed to doing everything in my power to alleviate the impacts of the temporary Suncor disaster on Coloradans and their families who are already struggling with inflation and high costs. I’ve already lifted regulatory burdens around trucking hours, truck weight limits, and directed agencies to ease-up on pipeline transportation requirements during the Suncor shutdown. My administration has also been working to secure outside supply to minimize disruption.

But the only long-term solution is to continue pursuing low-cost, reliable, renewable energy in the state of Colorado. We simply must end our reliance on costly fossil fuels, improve energy security, and save people money.

The governor has faced criticism from environmental groups for not doing enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This line provided some insight into the balance Polis is trying to find between protecting the environment, not rocking the economy too much and making the green-energy transition.

That’s why the electric vehicle and ebike tax credits I’m proposing are so important, and why we’re focused on increasing access to electric vehicles and transit options since we took office. This tax relief amplifies the work of the Front Range Rail District, free bus fare months, and the need for greater transit options.

I look forward to working with the General Assembly to make Colorado a place where geothermal, hydrogen and carbon capture technologies can and will succeed.

While we do our part to improve our air quality and reduce pollution, we are also preparing our state for the hotter, drier climate that we are experiencing.

Since 2019, Colorado has supported response efforts for more than 2,000 wildfires, including the three largest in the history of Colorado and the most destructive in the history of Colorado.

The East Troublesome and Cameron Peak fires in 2020 and the Marshall fire in 2021 were some of the biggest disasters Polis faced during his first term.

It was only a few weeks ago that we marked the one-year anniversary of the Marshall Fire in Boulder County, a reminder that the threat of wildfire is no longer seasonal. It’s year-round, and we need to be more ready than ever before.

Colorado has invested in some of the most effective fire prevention and response measures out there — from our state’s first Firehawk helicopter to forest restoration and other proven mitigation efforts. I want to thank President Fenberg and the Joint Budget Committee for leading the way for these important resources for firefighting.

But we know there is more work ahead.

We need to continue strengthening our aerial capabilities, supporting our professional and volunteer firefighters, and preparing for a hotter, drier climate.

Colorado no longer refers to “wildfire season” as fires erupt year-round and some of the most destructive have occurred in winter.

The state has shelled out big money to help improve the capacity of Colorado firefighters to keep wildfires from blowing up into another Marshall fire or East Troublesome fire, including purchasing a Firehawk helicopter.

We must also expand fire prevention efforts, including building fire defense around communities that are at risk, elevating the work of the Colorado Strategic Wildfire Action Program.

Getting this right is critical for the health of our communities and for the future of our state. But it’s not about just the health of our environment, it’s also about the health of our people.

Unfortunately, after housing expenses, health care costs are often the highest costs that families face. Too many Coloradans continue to have to choose between the care they desperately need, paying their rent or mortgage, or putting food on their families’ table.

Our own Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera knows this story all too well.

Dianne was diagnosed with breast cancer, and told she had five years to live. With two young daughters to raise, her life was turned upside down and she was forced to wrestle with the questions too many other Coloradans have faced.

Can I support my family and pay for my treatments? Will this devastate us financially? Will I be able to be there for our children?

I’m proud to say that Dianne didn’t just survive, she has thrived. She dedicated her career to public service — as a legislator and in state government and, of course, as lieutenant governor and the head of our Office of Saving People Money on Health Care.

Please join me in recognizing our lieutenant governor, the best lieutenant governor, in the county, Dianne Primavera with her grandson. And her grandson is extremely well-behaved.

Together we’ve reduced costs for health care coverage through the bipartisan reinsurance program, the Colorado Option, Omni Salud, and expanded Medicaid and CHIP. Just (recently) ​​we learned that more than 34,000 people in our state have enrolled in Colorado Option plans, saving Coloradans millions of dollars and surpassing the original enrollment goals.

Thank you for your work around the Colorado option. We’ve saved people money by capping insulin costs, by passing pharma rebates on to consumers, and increasing hospital pricing transparency.

We’ve also taken the first steps to fix our behavioral health care system with the creation of the Behavioral Health Administration and the investment of American Rescue Plan Act funding.

But we know that have a lot more work to do. The United States spends far more on health care, nearly twice as much, than our peers around the world, and our results are no better.

Meanwhile, Coloradans still pay some of the highest costs for health care, particularly hospital care in the country. Sadly, we are among the top 10 states for hospital cost, price and profit. Colorado likes to be in the top but not in highest costs.

Polis is referencing a report released last year by the state Department of Health Care Policy and Financing. The report found that the price per patient in Colorado hospitals in 2020 ranked sixth highest in the nation, while the profit per patient ranked seventh. Total profit was sixth highest, while the cost per patient — a measure of efficiency, reflecting hospitals’ underlying expenses to actually provide care — was the nation’s 10th highest.

Our work to save people money on health care is more urgent than ever before, and we must leave no stone unturned. When we turn 150 years old, I want Colorado to be a state where everyone can get the care they need easily and affordably.

First, we have to continue saving people money on their prescriptions.

Prescription drug costs take up too much of someone’s personal monthly expenses, with costs rising faster than inflation. In 2021, about 10% of Coloradans were unable to fill a prescription because of cost leading to bad health outcomes but also higher costs, as it often led to the need for urgent hospital care.

This is according to the most recent Colorado Health Access Survey, an every-other-year study by the Colorado Health Institute. The survey estimated that 9.7% of Coloradans in 2021 didn’t fill a prescription due to its cost. Of those, 40% said the hardship made their condition worse.

With us today is Karisa, a Type 1 diabetic. Thanks to our work to cap insulin costs — the first legislation of its kind in the country — she no longer has to choose between buying groceries and the insulin that she needs to stay healthy. She described that bill as “saving her life” and we are so grateful to have her here today. Please join me in welcoming Karisa.

Karisa is far from alone. Because of that legislation, every diabetic in Colorado can get their insulin at an affordable price. I know this is personal to many of you, and I want to thank Sen. Dylan Roberts and Sen. Kevin Priola for your important work in making this a reality.

And there is more we can and must do.

By saving people money on prescriptions, we can prevent the rationing of medication that leads to worse health outcomes and higher health care costs.

That’s why, in addition to our efforts to import lower-cost drugs from Canada, we’ll be working to build on the work of Sen. Gonzales, Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, and Rep. Chris Kennedy to strengthen the Prescription Drug Affordability Board so we can continue making progress to save people money on life-saving medications.

The Prescription Drug Affordability Board, which was created under a 2021 bill, has the authority to set “upper payment limits” on drugs it determines are unaffordable. In other words, it can set price caps.

The board is still getting up-and-running but is expected to start getting into the meat of its work this year. Meanwhile, the state is still waiting to hear back from the federal government on a plan to import lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada and sell them in Colorado pharmacies.

Like your prescription drug rebate legislation last year, we will also continue to hold middlemen accountable for cutting the cost of prescription drugs so employers can pass savings to consumers and reduce premiums.

But that’s just one piece of the puzzle.

We have worked with the health care industry in good faith to lower costs, but not all of them have held up their end of the bargain.

It’s unclear exactly what Polis is referring to here.

The state has the authority to regulate only part of the insurance market — large employers who self-fund their health plans are outside the state’s authority, as are employers based elsewhere. For people and businesses that buy health insurance in the state’s individual, small-group and large-group markets, the federal Affordable Care Act caps how much insurers can hold onto for administrative expenses as well as for profit. (Insurers must spend at least 80% of the premiums they collect on paying health claims in the individual and small-group markets, meaning 20% is left over to fund everything else. In the large group market, the percentage rises to 85%.)

The state insurance commissioner also approves rates for insurers and has the ability to require companies to lower their anticipated profit margins or administrative expenses. Still, insurance rates are going up in Colorado — and the higher they rise, the more money insurers make, even if the margin percentages stay the same.

Some health insurers continue to profit from Coloradans while administrative costs, unrelated to patient care, continue soaring. Insurers need to step up to lower costs and improve outcomes in the state of Colorado.

Similarly, some large hospital systems are making record profits, paying zero taxes, and sitting on enormous reserves derived from overcharging customers. Meanwhile, they are consolidating providers, which drives up costs and leaves fewer options for our fellow Coloradans.

After years of record profits, many Colorado hospitals are currently facing a downturn — driven in part by losses in the investment market but also by higher staffing costs and inflation-driven increases in supply costs. That makes this one of the story lines to watch for the legislative session.

How hard will lawmakers push hospitals at a time when, after three years of pandemic, hospitals will cry hardship? And how will Colorado’s hospital market — which last year saw one blockbuster merger — respond to the situation?

It’s time that we hold them accountable. First and foremost, that means stop overcharging patients. It also means that nonprofit hospitals, who have the benefit of not having to pay taxes, must work with their communities to live up to the promise that providing benefits, like mental health, maternity care, health care workforce growth, support for social determinants of health like housing and food, occur.

We should build on and strengthen Rep. Kennedy and Sen. Winter’s great work in tracking these resources and ensuring that nonprofit hospitals actually use community benefit dollars for community benefit.

We can and should support the great work of the bipartisan reinsurance program, created by Speaker McCluskie and Sen. Janice Rich, to deliver even more savings to consumers through lower insurance premiums for people on the exchange.

After health care and housing, education is another big cost for many Coloradans. Access to a quality education is fundamental. It’s a right. It’s critical for our economic prosperity in the next 150 years. At 150, I want to see an education system that prepares every child, and learners of all ages, for success in our state.

That starts with early childhood education.

Thanks to Rep. Barbara McLachlan, Sen. Jeff Bridges and Senator Fields, free, full-day kindergarten saves families thousands of dollars every year.

Full-day kindergarten access was approved by the legislature in 2019, Polis’ first year in office, but it’s not free.

Families may not be charged directly for kindergarten access, but the legislature spends millions each year in tax dollars to fund the program.

And thanks to Rep. Sirota, Sen. Janet Buckner, President Fenberg, so many others, and of course, the people of Colorado, free preschool — launching this fall — will save families at least $6,000 a year and give every child the best possible start in life.

Again, families may not pay out of pocket for expanded preschool access, but it’s not free.

In 2020, voters approved Proposition EE, which increases taxes on tobacco and nicotine products to pay for the expansion.

This is a monumental achievement and today, by the way, is the first day families can apply to enroll their 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds next year. I’m so excited to share that more than 4,300 families have already started applying in the last few hours alone.

Today we’re joined by Shar Portillo, a teacher at Strasburg Elementary, and her three children — Elias, a kindergartener, Ethran, a preschooler, and, a future preschooler, Tyler, who will start preschool this fall.

Earlier today, the family filled out Tyler’s preschool application making them some of the very first to sign up! Thank you Shar, Elias, Ethran and Tyler for being with us here today.

And to the rest of you, tell your friends with 3-year-olds to go to upk.Colorado.gov today and sign up. I’ll take a moment so you can text your friends with 3-year-olds. Share that with your lists, your social media — everyone you know.

We want more families like the Portillos to have even more hours of free preschool. I’m calling for the legislature to refer a ballot measure that would allow Colorado to utilize excess Proposition EE funds for preschool, just as the legislature did on a bipartisan basis for excess marijuana funds in 2015. This would give voters the choice to support more services for more children, and help lower-income families enroll their child in full-day preschool.

Colorado collected more tax revenue under Proposition EE than it expected — about $20 million more — and now, because of TABOR, must either refund the money to taxpayers or ask Colorado voters if the state can keep the excess.

Proposition EE was supposed to be a mechanism to cut down on tobacco and nicotine use, but it appears from the large tax haul that it’s not accomplishing that goal.

And for K-12 learners, I’m proposing in my supplemental and budget amendment package today that we raise per pupil funding by an additional $925 per student — or an additional $20,000 per Colorado classrooms each year — building on last year’s historic raise made possible by Sen. Zenzinger, Sen. Paul Lundeen, Speaker McCluskie and Rep. McLachlan.

School districts can use these funds to increase pay, like the Lake County School District that just raised teacher pay by 16% in just one year with a major bump for their staff like drivers, para professionals and chefs. Or how Colorado’s two largest school districts are starting their teachers at just over $50,000 per year.

Colorado teachers salaries have been well below the national average, and educators in the state take home nearly 36% less than other college-educated workers, according to a 2022 report published by the nonprofit think tank Economic Policy Institute, which is based in Washington, D.C.

Pay has continuously lagged for educators, with average weekly wages of public school teachers increasing by $29 — when considering inflation — from 1996 to 2021. Pay jumped in that period from $1,319 to $1,348. Low teacher pay has been a driving factor in districts’ struggles to attract and retain educators, particularly as home prices have risen significantly and shut teachers out from the communities they serve.

Fewer than one-fifth of Colorado homes are affordable to teachers who earn an average salary in their district, according to a 2022 report from the nonpartisan Keystone Policy Center.

That would have been unheard of a half decade ago. These new funds can also support smaller class sizes, revive extracurriculars, or fund mental health support for our students who need it. And today, I am proud to submit a proposal to buy down the budget stabilization factor to its lowest level ever and set our state on a path to finally eliminate it altogether during my second term, fulfilling our state’s commitment to our schools.

The legislature is supposed to increase annual per pupil funding at the rate of inflation under Amendment 23, a measure passed by voters in 2000. But in the wake of the Great Recession, state lawmakers in 2010 adopted the budget stabilization factor — sometimes also referred to as the negative factor — which allows the General Assembly to allocate to schools each year less than what they are owed. The I.O.U. persists to this day.

For the current school year, lawmakers owe schools $321 million.

When asked how highly she will prioritize eliminating the budget stabilization factor, House Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, said she didn’t want to put the cart ahead of the horse. The legislature has limited money to spend this year and the possibility of recession looms large.

“It’s important we see what that March forecast looks like,” she said, nodding to the next time lawmakers will get tax revenue predictions from nonpartisan staff and the governor’s office. “I know our public schools don’t want to see us pay off the BSF and then next year bring it back. We need to find a sustainable path forward.”

The last few years have been tough for our K-12 learners and educators, and those challenges are reflected in test scores, particularly math.

To help improve achievement, we are proposing new investments in high-quality math curricula and training to ensure that our educators have the support they need to help all of our students thrive. We are increasing our commitment to high-quality before and after school programming — saving parents thousands of dollars and helping to boost math achievement.

This is a key part of helping students graduate with the skills they need to succeed. Another key component is increasing the number of students who graduate high school with more than just a diploma.

In Colorado, roughly 53% of high school graduates earn some college credit in high school, saving them an estimated $53 million in tuition costs each year. But that number can and should be even higher.

Let’s ensure that every student has access to career-connected learning while they are in high school and let’s reward those schools that are doing more to help students succeed in the workforce and in life! Whether it’s dual and concurrent enrollment programs, career and technical education, work-based learning and apprenticeships, receiving an industry certification or associate’s degree concurrent with a high school deployment. Every high school student in our state should have that opportunity today.

But we don’t want the innovation to end at graduation, we want to create more training pathways for Coloradans of all ages shape their own success.

Luke Skywalker wasn’t born knowing the ways of the force, he was trained under the guidance of Jedi Master Yoda.

This is the part of the speech where Polis blended pop culture with an attempt at humor. He tried his best to imitate Yoda’s voice (click to listen). We give him an A+ for effort but a D- on his execution.

“Two available jobs for every unemployed Coloradan we have”

That’s right, we have two available jobs for every unemployed person today in our state, as Yoda says.

Colorado might not need more than a small council of Jedis, but there are many other industries where we need lots of talent!

Governor Jared Polis does an impression of Yoda, from Star Wars, as he delivers the 2023 state of the state address. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post, Pool)

At 150, I want every Coloradan to have access to the skills needed to get a good-paying job that supports them and their families. And a workforce that meets the needs of our businesses to power our mighty economic engine of growth.

This is another reason why our work on housing is so important. Coloradans have to be able to afford to live in our communities where they can earn a good living and companies need to be able to find the workers they need to thrive.

We’ve already made historic investments in Colorado’s workforce. We’re creating regional training partnerships, supporting our local workforce centers, increasing disability employment opportunities, and adopting skills-based hiring practices and apprenticeship opportunities.

I want to thank some of the legislators who worked on these critical bills, including Speaker McCluskie, Sen. Rich, Sen. Lundeen and Sen. Bridges. Thank you for your work.

Last year, we created Care Forward Colorado, which makes it completely free for Colorado students to pursue careers in health care at any community or technical college. And guess what? Demand and enrollment increased. But we want to go beyond just health care and into other areas that we are experiencing shortages.

I’m proposing we expand the Care Forward Colorado funding to include free training for other in-demand fields in both the public and private sector, including construction, firefighting, law enforcement, nursing and early childhood education.

We also know that the number of Coloradans pursuing postsecondary education or training right out of high school has been declining. To address this challenge, I am proposing a new scholarship for graduating high school seniors in the class of 2024 to pursue postsecondary education, training or certifications.

It’s unclear how this scholarship would be funded.

Because today’s economy demands access to quick skill acquisition, whether that’s a one-, two- or four-year degree, professional training, or an apprenticeship, or on-the-job training to meet the ever changing needs of our economy and support the livelihood of our families. We are going to jumpstart access to training to help more Coloradans be career ready, earn more, and power our economy

And this work must be done in collaboration with all those involved —from education, to labor unions, to training providers, and of course the business community.

We also want to continue investing in our hardworking state employees that drive Colorado forward. They plow our interstates on snowy days, they staff our state hospital in Pueblo, they manage our prisons and much more. Our state workers deserve our respect, fair, competitive wages, and of course, good benefits. I want to thank Colorado WINS for their partnership.

Colorado gave state workers the ability to collectively bargain in 2021, and their wages have increased steadily in recent years. Colorado WINS is the state employee union.

Together, we’ve negotiated a compensation package that – if funded by you – will ensure we can attract and retain the very best talent for Colorado’s state government.

I look forward to working with all of you to support the future of our workforce and economy, and together, we can maybe help more Coloradans not just aspirationally answer the question “where do you see yourself five years from now,” but actually achieve their career goals.

As we think about the future, we also have to think about how we can make Colorado a safer place to live.

Every person deserves a safe home and a safe community, and in three years I want Colorado to be closing in on our goal of becoming one of the top 10 safest states in the country. Right now, Colorado falls in the middle of the pack on crime rates, but that’s not good enough.

Rep. Gabe Evans, a Fort Lupton Republican who used to be a police officer, said the public safety portion of the governor’s speech was “an end goal with no details on how to get there.”

Evans said many of Colorado’s public safety issues stem from low law enforcement morale.

“We’re seeing record rates of officers leaving the profession and, at the end of the day, if you don’t have cops to go out and actually catch the auto thieves, we can have every program in the world that we want … we’re dead in the water before we’ve even started,” he said.

We can and we must do better.

I want to commend our legislators who helped pass last year’s historic public safety package, including Sen. Janet Buckner, Rep. Valdez, Rep. Naquetta Ricks, Rep. Jennifer Bacon, and so many others. From investments in recruitment and retention for local law enforcement to physical improvements in our communities and our schools to support for proven crime prevention strategies. This bipartisan collaboration is already beginning to have an impact.

Thanks to this work, the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office, like many others, received a grant that supports new and existing officers, helping to make their communities safer for everyone. Today we’re joined by Sheriff Tyler Brown, who actually came to the Capitol straight from a swearing in ceremony for new officers who were recruited with support from the funding that you passed last year.

Join me in welcoming Sheriff Tyler Brown!

We’re also joined by Summit County Sheriff Jaime Fitzsimons, Estes Park Chief of Police David Hayes, Pueblo Police Chief Chris Noeller, Chief of Auraria Campus Police Mike Phibbs, and Chief Matt Packard of the Colorado State Patrol.

Thank you for your commitment and the commitment of all of our men and women in blue for keeping our communities safe!

We also celebrate the work of our community organizations who are helping kids achieve future success.

Thanks to legislation passed last year with the leadership of Rep. Lindsey Daugherty, Rep. Serena Gonzales Gutierrez, Sen. Coleman and Sen. Nick Hinrichsen, Boys and Girls Clubs in Colorado received funding to launch a pilot across 21 club sites in 15 counties to provide real, meaningful enrichment opportunities outside of school to help youth reach their full potential and avoid entering the justice system.

These services will reach thousands of Coloradans. Today we are joined by the 2022 Youth of the Year Winner, Ameya Garcia, her parents, Boys & Girls Club leaders from around the state, including Executive Director Kaycee Headrick. Thank you for joining us and for your work.

To build on this work, I’m proposing an additional package that will provide even more resources for local law enforcement officers and community organizations doing important work on the ground.

This funding will also help us crack down on auto theft with stronger tools including technology to help us locate and return stolen vehicles, an auto-theft task force, and greater support for district attorneys in communities with high rates of auto theft to help them successfully prosecute the criminals and hold them responsible. Last fall I called on the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice to get tough on auto theft sentencing, and just last week the Commission’s Sentencing Task Force moved that recommendation forward overwhelmingly. I look forward to seeing their recommendation taken up by the General Assembly on this topic.

The state’s rising number of auto thefts was a major issue in the 2022 election, particularly in the attorney general contest. The legislature is preparing this year to make all auto thefts a felony crime.

Right now, it’s a misdemeanor to steal a car that’s valued at less than $2,000.

This is an issue that has affected some of you in this chamber and so many of our fellow Coloradans. And I look forward to finding better solutions to auto theft in the state of Colorado.

We’re also investing in proven crime prevention strategies; expanding the capacity of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation; improving school safety by helping our schools make security improvements, expanding threat assessment, creating a one-stop shop to help schools and parents get the resources they need.

I want to recognize our dedicated partner in our efforts to make Colorado safer, Attorney General Phil Weiser.

Partnership with our local leaders is critical to making Colorado safer, and I want to thank Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman, and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who’s represented today by Acting Mayor Laura Aldrete, for their leadership in helping make Colorado safer.

These mayors of the three largest cities in our state — Greeley’s coming after you but you’re the three largest — Republican and Democratic — have helped identify tools to successfully fight crime in their communities and others, and together we want the state to step up and be a more constructive partner in this work. I’m proud to join their recent bipartisan call to action including greater penalties for car theft; deterring unlawful weapon possession by felons; and cracking down on ghost guns, which are completely untraceable and increasingly being used to carry out violent crimes.

9News reported in November that the alleged Club Q shooter used ghost guns in the deadly attack that left five dead and at least 17 injured.

In the session ahead, let’s take action on their recommendations and other things that we can do to continue our bipartisan work to make Colorado safer for everyone.

The horrific shooting at Club Q is one of too many examples of how a crime can inflict pain and fear for an entire community. I want to take a moment to remember those who were lost that night. Let’s have a moment of silence for:

  • Daniel Aston
  • Kelly Loving
  • Ashley Paugh
  • Derrick Rump
  • Raymond Green Vance

I also want to recognize the acts of heroism and we have two heroes here with us today.

These individuals were in the club that night to have fun with friends and their family. After the shooter entered and began firing, they brought them to the ground, stopped them, and, in so doing so, they saved many, many lives.

The shooting unfolded — and ended — quickly. Richard Fierro, a retired Army combat veteran, tackled the shooter and began hitting the person with their own gun. An active-duty Navy petty officer, Thomas James, helped subdue the shooter, as did a woman who struck the shooter with her high heels.

Join me in thanking Colorado hero Richard Fierro, his wife, Jessica, and daughter Kassy — who was injured in the shooting herself, she’s back on her feet— and Colorado hero Thomas James, for their incredible actions that day. Thank you on behalf of the state of Colorado.

The recognition of the Fierro family and James drew the most sustained applause of Polis’ speech. There was a long standing ovation.

Richard Fierro, center, with his wife, left, and daughter, right, attended Governor Jared Polis’s 2023 state of the state address. Fierro helped to subdue the gunman during the Club Q shooting. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post, Pool)

There are hundreds of Coloradans today who don’t have to mourn their boyfriend, their girlfriend, their son, their daughter, because of your active heroism at the right place at the right time.

We should always strive to learn from our experiences and as we move forward, we should consider strengthening Colorado’s extreme risk protection order law to prevent those who are a risk to themselves or others from getting their hands on a gun. This legislation has been used hundreds of times successfully, but we can do more to spread awareness and make sure it is used when the situation calls for it.

Right now, loved ones and local law enforcement have the ability to pursue an extreme risk protection order. But why not expand this to include additional petitioners, like district attorneys?

The extreme risk protection order law, more commonly known as the red flag law, lets Colorado judges order the temporary seizure of firearms from people deemed a significant risk to themselves or others.

Changes to the red flag law are only one of the many measures legislators are considering this year. Democrats also want to increase the age at which someone can purchase a shotgun or rifle to 21, enact a waiting period between when someone purchases a firearm and can access the weapon and ban so-called assault weapons. The governor, speaking to reporters after his speech, repeatedly dodged questions about whether he would support legislation banning so-called assault weapons.

“I haven’t seen anything like that,” Polis said.

Rep. Andrew Boesenecker, a Fort Collins Democrat working on the so-called assault weapons ban, said he hasn’t had detailed conversations with the governor about the proposed policy. When asked if he thought Polis would be an ally in his work on the legislation, he said “I’d hate to speculate on where (he’s) at.”

I look forward to exploring common sense solutions with all of you.

“We’re happy to discuss other ideas from Republicans and Democrats about how we can improve gun safety in Colorado and honor and and there’s our Second Amendment rights as citizens of the United States of America,” Polis told reporters after his speech.

Together, we will continue working to make our communities safer for everyone, and four years from now, we’ll all have something to celebrate in being one of the safest states in the country.

James Baldwin said, “There is never time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now.”

So I ask you, again, who do we want to be when our great state reaches our 150th birthday?

I want us to be a state where every person can find a home in their budget for rent or for purchase, where our water resources are protected and support the needs of our communities, our farmers and our economy. A state where we’ve secured 100% renewable energy by 2040, and every Coloradan can get the education and skills that they need to thrive. I want us to be one of the 10 safest states in the country. And I want health care, and everything in our state, to be more affordable for everyone.

If there was one portion of the speech that summarized the entire address, this was it.

I want our state, and our nation, to be a beacon of hope and freedom for all — no matter your gender, ethnicity, your age, your race, your ability, who you love or who you are. A Colorado for All.

Once again, Polis widened his gaze beyond Coloradans in a potential nod to his national political ambitions.

This is what Coloradans want too, and it’s up to us to deliver. If we can do that, we will have successfully secured our future for the next 150 years and be an example for the rest of the country to follow at 250. To put things in perspective, that’s barely a quarter of Methuselah’s life on Earth of 969 years, and less than one-tenth the lifetime of Colorado’s oldest 2,510 year old bristlecone pine.

Confused? Us, too. The governor talked about the Biblical character Methuselah, who lived a very long time, and also bristlecone pines, which live a very long time and are often referred to as Methuselah trees.

Colorado is purported to have one bristlecone pine that is older than 2,500 years, but in order to keep it from being made into a hipster’s live-edge dining table, no one will really say where it is.

But this is the future we deserve, so let’s make it happen.

Just a few weeks ago, we celebrated the beginning of a new year. Instead of resolutions, some people choose a single word to guide them in the year ahead. If I had to choose a word for Colorado, I’d pick “limitless,” because I truly believe that if we work together, what we can do is limitless. And the example that we can set for the rest of the country and the world is beyond measure.

Today in 2023, the State of our state is undeniably strong. But we know that we can be even stronger and better. For our potential is truly limitless.

God bless you all. God bless Colorado. And God bless the United States of America.


Colorado Sun staff writers Erica Breunlin, Michael Booth and John Ingold contributed to this report, as did Colorado Sun Senior Editor Dana Coffield.

Jesse Paul

The Colorado Sun — jesse@coloradosun.com Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...

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Elliott Wenzler

Elliott Wenzler is a reporter for the Colorado Sun, covering local politics, the state legislature and other topics. She also assists with The Unaffiliated newsletter. Previously, she was a community reporter in Douglas County for Colorado Community Media. She has won awards for her...