DENVER (AP) – Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday laid out a vision to tackle the state’s soaring housing prices that includes proposals to roll back burdensome building and zoning codes, open public land to affordable housing development and support innovation such as completed units.
Polis, a Democrat re-elected in November, also touched on efforts to combat climate change, such as promoting geothermal energy and proposed lowering state income taxes 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,” Polis said. “The example we can set for the rest of the country and the world is unfathomable.”
Polis, the first openly gay governor in the United States, begins his second term after a shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs in November left five dead and has renewed calls from Democrats to pass stricter gun regulations.
Polis addressed gun violence but largely sidestepped Democrats’ proposals that included raising the minimum age to buy guns and potentially banning assault weapons.
Richard Fierro and Thomas James looked down from the gallery, 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 to concerns about “spiraling hate speech.”
“We are happy to discuss other ideas about how we can improve gun safety in Colorado and respect our Second Amendment rights,” Polis told reporters after his speech.
Republican lawmakers, who hold small minorities in both chambers, applauded the idea of cutting income taxes and Polis’ reticence on 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 .
“It was a big goody bag for the state,” Lynch said, “We want to do good things for the people of Colorado, but we also have to live within a budget.”
Polis praised the government’s intervention on housing, citing a ballot measure passed by Coloradans 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 supported market-based solutions.
Polis proposed easing zoning regulations and red tape to encourage housing construction. He trumpeted what he called Colorado-based Fading West Development’s ability to build a manufactured home in about 18 days.
“He said a lot of hopeful things about making Colorado better,” Senate Minority Leader Paul Lundeen said. “The reality is that he’s fixing a lot of the problems that are exacerbated by the policies he’s signed into law over the last few years.”
Lundeen cited a 2022 bill that Polis signed that, he said, allowed for restrictive environmental building codes that raise housing costs. “You have to pick your priority,” Lundeen said.
Polis referenced Republicans’ abysmal showing in Colorado’s 2022 midterms, but then called for bipartisan solutions to the state’s problems. GOP lawmakers hope Polis will be an ally on some contentious issues — including gun control.
Senate President Steve Fenberg praised 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 have to figure out how to grow as a state,” Fenberg said.
Polis made his speech — which referenced everything from tax credits for electric vehicles to the “Lord of the Rings” character Gandalf the Gray — after securing nearly 60% of the vote in the November election in a once undeniably purple state. Polis’ appeal has sparked rumors of a future presidential run, rumors he has dismissed but not ruled out unequivocally.
Polis not only garnered laughs when he implemented Star Wars Jedi Master character Yoda’s backwards syntax, but as he admiringly described Colorado.
“Our state may be shaped like a square, but the political pundits cannot put us in a box,” he said. “We are a state that just this year voted to lower income taxes again while legalizing mushrooms.”
Jesse Bedayn is a staff 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 undercover issues.