Gov. Jared Polis speaks at a news conference Jan. 10, 2022, to unveil Democrats’ legislative agenda. An American Sign Language interpreter stands at right. From left, Senate President Leroy Garcia, House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera and House Speaker Alec Garnett stand on the steps behind Polis. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)
Colorado Democrats — who control the state Senate, House of Representatives and governor’s office — unveiled their election-year legislative platform during a Monday press conference.
Democrats hear Coloradans’ concerns about the rising cost of living and “have a plan to make it easier to get by,” House Speaker Alec Garnett said on the steps of the Colorado Capitol.
Gov. Jared Polis’ budget request, submitted in November, included $104 million in fee relief for individuals and businesses. If approved by the Joint Budget Committee and the Colorado General Assembly, the money would cover fees to start a business and health care workers’ professional license fees. It would also reduce the premiums paid by employers and employees in the first six months of a paid family and medical leave program that voters approved in 2020.
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An amendment submitted Jan. 3 to the governor’s original budget request would provide additional fee relief for vehicle owners. The money would allow the state to delay implementing a gas fee included in Senate Bill 21-260, the transportation package that passed last year, as well as extend SB-260’s temporary reduction of vehicle registration fees.
Additionally, Polis has proposed using $600 million in state and federal money to replenish some of the state’s COVID-battered unemployment insurance trust fund, and help small businesses pay the higher premiums resulting from the fund’s insolvency.
Besides the fee relief, Democrats say they want to pass state legislation expanding access to health care and reducing health care costs, reducing child care and housing costs, preparing students for success, and making communities safer.
Polis’ original budget proposal included funds for helping rural health care providers better use data and technology to improve patient care. The amended budget request would also direct state general fund dollars and federal matching funds to initiatives supporting the nursing home workforce and industry. This would include temporary payments to nursing home facilities that accept patients being discharged from hospitals.
As for public safety, Polis’ budget proposal includes grant funding for local law enforcement agencies to help them implement co-responder teams with behavioral health workers and fund community policing programs as well as grants to help train and recruit local police officers.
Democrats who spoke at Monday’s news conference highlighted the federal money that’s being directed toward affordable housing and behavioral health, two areas that Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg and House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar emphasized in an interview with Newsline last week. Two legislative task forces met over the summer and fall to develop recommendations on how to spend a combined $850 million on housing and behavioral health.
Democrats’ main talking points echoed some of what Colorado Republicans outlined in a legislative platform they released in August of 2021 — irking GOP officials. House Minority Leader Hugh McKean, who spoke with Newsline after Monday’s news conference, called the Democratic platform a “theft” of Republicans’ longtime priorities.
The GOP platform includes three main pillars, according to an August statement from the state Republican Party: “making Colorado affordable, prioritizing public safety, and expanding educational choice for families across our state.”
Asked about the similarities between the Republican and Democratic platforms, Polis said they pointed to potential opportunities for bipartisan collaboration.
But McKean was skeptical. His caucus wants to see new fees reversed, not just delayed, and more money going to the unemployment insurance trust fund, easing the burden on businesses.
“If you just delay all of these fees, you’re not making Colorado more affordable,” McKean said. “You’re trying to make yourself more electable.”
All state House districts and 17 Senate districts will hold elections in November. The offices of the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer and attorney general are also up for election. Polis is running for reelection to a second term as governor.
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