The state of Colorado is working with local jurisdictions to tackle issues from transportation to cybersecurity, Gov. Jared Polis said at a town hall May 4 at Sierra High School.
Polis spoke about projects he’s working on and answered questions at the event, sponsored by the Business Journal and sister publications the Colorado Springs Independent and the Southeast Express.
Two Sierra High School students and reporters from the publications directed questions to the governor. Then Polis addressed a variety of questions from the audience that were written on cards, collected by volunteers from Citizens Project and read by moderator Amy Sweet, the Business Journal’s publisher and executive editor.
“One of the biggest things that we have been focused on is finally funding free full-day kindergarten for every child,” Polis said in his opening statement.
He touted bipartisan efforts in the legislature to tackle the high cost of health care, stating that as a result of those efforts, rates in the individual insurance market in El Paso County are projected to drop at least 10 percent next year.
“We also got a bill that I will be signing soon … to end surprise out-of-network billing,” Polis said. “We think that people need to be notified up front. … We also created a bipartisan bill to create a co-op or public option in the exchange and give people more choice of what I’m sure they want.”
Polis said the state would take a year to plan the public option, which would be implemented in the second year.
Colorado is one of only two states in the nation to have passed a law allowing importation of prescription drugs from Canada, Polis said.
“Prescription drug costs are almost 20 percent of total health care costs,” he said. “And yet we pay in America three, four, five times as much for the exact same prescription drug available in Canada.”
Polis said he and the governor of Florida, the only other state to pass a similar bill, have had a “very encouraging conversation with President Trump that the president will grant the waiver that we need to allow this.”
Turning to the economy, Polis said the state is leveraging tax credits to encourage investment in communities that are still recovering from the Great Recession.
“We want to attract and draw businesses to the areas that need it,” he said.
Regarding transportation, Polis noted that the legislature had delivered $300 million for transportation projects despite voters’ rejection of transportation bond funding in 2018.
“The legislature had to read the tea leaves,” Polis said. “We’re certainly doing the most with what we have, … and we’re also focused on how we can move people more efficiently, we’re focused on how we can incorporate additional transit opportunities, whether it’s bus services or expanding light rail.”
Joint local-state projects could help establish more “market-rate, affordable housing close to where people are,” he said.
On oil and gas issues, the governor said local control “is a big part of the answer.”
The oil and gas bill passed by the legislature “says that cities and counties are able to listen to the voices of residents and have a role in the siting process, including dust and noise and mitigation around oil and gas activities that are in their area,” he said.
Asked about a study that could lead to set-asides on state contracts for small minority, disadvantaged or women-owned businesses, Polis said he thought that was the subject of one of about 300 bills passed during the final week of the legislative session.
“We’ll be looking at it like we look at any bill; obviously we’ll be deciding which ones to sign … in the coming months,” he said.
The National Cybersecurity Center in Colorado Springs would play a role in ensuring the integrity of the voting process in the 2020 election.
“We want to look at new technologies to do that,” such as blockchain and bitcoin, he said. “If we can move toward a distributed model, … there’s a lot of points along the way that can lead to a better collective security product.”
Polis returned several times to themes of diversity, inclusiveness and collaboration among people with different political views. Although many of his statements met with approval from the audience, some remarks drew jeers and dissent, and about a dozen protesters outside the school carried signs demanding a recall.
“I think we have to look for what brings us together as Coloradans,” Polis said.