Gov. Jared Polis said in a State of the State address to business leaders on Tuesday that his agenda is one that promotes Colorado's economic good, giving all Coloradans a chance to be in the forefront.
Polis and business leaders who spoke at the lunch flagged what will likely be the biggest bills of the four-month session: a public option insurance program, a paid family leave law, addressing transportation and expanding pre-school opportunities. The governor said drug pricing transparency would get keen focus from Democrats in the legislature this year, after they took on surprise out-of-network medical billing and cheaper prescription drugs from Canada last year.
He spoke of permanent tax cuts for more Coloradans by eliminating loopholes and dodges for the wealthy, without specifying any loopholes or those using them.
Polis joked that Tuesday's address would be slightly shorter than his 52-minute address to the General Assembly on Jan. 9.
"At least this one's catered," he said to the lunch crowd.
Polis welcomed the business and civic leaders in the crowd, including his director of state economic development, former U.S. Rep. Betsy Markey, plus House Republican leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock and Rep. Kevin Van Winkle, a Republican from Highlands Ranch.
"We are thrilled to live in such an amazing place as Colorado, a state that's defined not only by our incredible natural beauty and our strong economy, but also by our forward-thinking society, our tradition of working together in good faith to find common ground and help protect what keeps Colorado special while we build a better state together," the governor said.
After ticking off a list of accomplishments from his first year in office, Polis said there was much more to do, beyond jobs, economic growth, population gains and a 2% gain in the high school graduation rate over the past year.
He said too many Coloradans are still one hardship away from economic ruin and worry about how they can get ahead in an emerging economy, "while still finding the time to enjoy the things that make life worth living."
"It's our job as public officials to build a state that allows Coloradans to reach the mountain top by saving families money, protecting what keeps Colorado special and widening that amazing path to prosperity that so many Coloradans aspire to," Polis said.
"That pathway to prosperity so often begins with a great education."
The governor said later in the address that the highlight of his first year was signing into law free full-day kindergarten, and he expects to expand pre-school opportunities for pre-schoolers in at-risk communities this legislative session.
That can save families money on daycare that they will put back into the economy elsewhere and help parents get back in the workforce to help with the state's labor shortages, Polis said.
He said that for every $1 the state invests in pre-school, it sees a $7 return in children not repeating grades later, reduced potential for crime and higher wages if a student with a good foundation stays on the right path.
He said his work to reduce the cost of health care is key to businesses, and one of the most difficult things he dealt with as he built several companies before his career in politics.
He spoke of the law passed last year that gives every child born or adopted in Colorado a $100 savings account that parents can add to and "see the magic of compound interest" to help pay for a college education later on.
"It's one of the most important investments we can make in the next generation," Polis said.
Debbie Brown, the new president of the Colorado Business Roundtable, told the lunch crowd that these were gold economic times in the state, with one of the most robust economies in the country and an unemployment rate of just 2.6%.
Colorado ranks among the best in the country on personal income and participation in the labor force, while home values grow, businesses expand and interest rates remain stable, she said.
"People continue to move to Colorado because of our economy and our quality of life," Brown said. "Colorado business leaders, probably many of you, feel optimistic in terms of sales, profits, hiring and capital expenditures.
"These are golden economic times, and every day Colorado businesses provide Coloradans across our state with income and benefits, valuable products and services, tax revenue and resources for charity."
All the while, however, faith and confidence in capitalism has been eroding, especially with younger people, she said, crediting that fade with the rise of socialist thought and demonizing corporations since the Great Recession.
Yet, so goes business, so go people: employees, owners, investors and those in the supply chains, Brown said.
"When business succeeds, people succeed and Colorado succeeds," she told business, civic and government leaders.