DENVER -- Colorado Gov. Jared Polis laid out a vision Tuesday to tackle the state's sky-high housing prices that includes proposals to roll back burdensome building regulations and zoning rules, open public land to affordable housing development, and support innovation such as pre-built units.
Polis, a Democrat re-elected in November, also touched on efforts to combat climate change such as promoting geothermal energy and proposed lowering the state income tax as well as measures to tackle crime and expand education funding in his state of the state address to lawmakers.
“This is the future we deserve, so let’s make it happen,” said Polis. “The example we can set for the rest of the country and the world is beyond measure.”
Polis, the first openly gay governor in the U.S., starts his second term after a shooting at a Colorado Springs gay nightclub in November left five dead and has renewed calls by Democrats to enact stricter gun regulations.
Polis addressed gun violence but largely skirted Democrat proposals that included raising the minimum age to buy guns and potentially banning assault weapons.
Looking down from the gallery were Richard Fierro and Thomas James, two patrons who tackled the shooter inside the club, as Polis read the names of those killed, asked for a moment of silence and nodded towards concerns around “spiraling hate speech.”
“We are happy to discuss other ideas about how we can improve gun safety in Colorado and honor our Second Amendment rights," Polis told reporters after his address.
Republican lawmakers, who hold small minorities in both chambers, applauded the idea of reducing income taxes and Polis’s reticence over gun control but worried that when it comes to housing affordability and climate policy, Polis’ goals are bigger than the state’s ability to pay for them.
“That was a big goody bag for the state,” said Lynch, “we want to do good things for the citizens of Colorado, but we also have to live within a budget as well.”
Polis lauded government intervention on housing, citing a ballot measure that Coloradans passed in November that dedicates an estimated $300 million annually to affordable housing and plans to “aggressively” free up parcels of state-owned land for low-income units.
But the governor, who has a libertarian streak, also endorsed market-based solutions.
Polis proposed easing zoning rules and red tape to promote housing construction. He trumpeted what he called the ability of Colorado-based Fading West Development to build a manufactured home in about 18 days.
“He said a lot of aspirational things about making Colorado better," said Senate Minority Leader Paul Lundeen. “The reality is he is fixing a lot of the problems exacerbated by the policies he has signed into law over the past couple years.”
Lundeen cited a 2022 bill Polis signed that, he said, allowed for restrictive environmental building codes that raise housing costs. “You got to pick your priority,” said Lundeen.
Polis referred to Republicans' abysmal showing in Colorado's 2022 midterms but then called for bipartisan solutions to the state's problems. GOP lawmakers hope that Polis will be an ally on some contentious topics — including gun control.
Senate President Steve Fenberg lauded Polis' focus on housing and said he wasn't concerned about Polis’ stance — or lack thereof — on gun control and lowering income taxes.
“Removing revenue right now is not the conversation. We need to figure out how we grow as a state,” said Fenberg.
Polis gave his speech — which referenced everything from electric vehicle tax credits to "The Lord of the Rings” character Gandalf the Grey — after securing almost 60% of the vote in the November election in a once inarguably purple state. Polis’s appeal has stirred rumors of a future presidential run, rumors he has demurred from but hasn’t unequivocally ruled out.
Polis didn’t just garner laughter when he deployed the Star Wars Jedi Master character Yoda’s backwards syntax but as he admiringly described Colorado.
“Our state might be shaped like a square but the political pundits can’t put us in a box,” he said. “We are a state that just this year voted to cut the income tax again while legalizing mushrooms.”
Jesse Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.