In State of the State address, Gov. Jared Polis sets legislative priorities on housing, public transit

"We must create more housing in our state that Coloradans at all income levels can rent or buy in the communities where they want to live and near job opportunities,” the governor said
Posted: 5:25 PM, Jan 11, 2024
Updated: 2024-01-11 20:58:22-05
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DENVER – Housing will be a top priority for Colorado Gov. Jared Polis in 2024 and beyond as previewed during his annual State of the State address Thursday, in which he set a bold vision to solve a crisis that is “a matter of statewide concern.”

While the governor also touched on public transit, public safety, education, the workforce, healthcare, the environment as well as the economy and fiscal policy, it was housing and housing affordability where the governor spent a sizeable chunk of his nearly hourlong speech.

His urgent message to a packed Colorado House Chamber came after a series of defeats for his administration last year. To start, a first-in-decades effort to rewrite the state land use code died in the final hours of last year’s legislative session. Then, after much fanfare over the summer to ease property taxes for homeowners, voters ended up rejecting Prop HH in November, forcing Polis to call for a special session to address Coloradans’ short-term concerns over skyrocketing property tax increases.

“Simply put, we must create more housing in our state”

In his speech Thursday, Polis said he had spent a lot of time talking with Coloradans from all corners of the state – parents who fear their children will never own their own home in Colorado; older Coloradans who fear they won’t be able to downsize; frontline workers who can’t live near the community where they work; and college students who don’t believe home ownership will ever be part of their future.

“There is a real sense of hopelessness and despair in our state around housing,” Polis said. “Simply put, we must create more housing in our state that Coloradans at all income levels can rent or buy in the communities where they want to live and near job opportunities.”

By reducing housing costs, he added, homelessness will also decrease.

As he addressed his goals for housing reform, Polis talked about the experience of one Coloradan who benefited from Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), which the governor said was “creating more housing supply that’s inherently affordable and filing critical gaps in our communities.”

As the 2024 legislative session gets underway, Polis said he would support bills that not only reduce the cost of housing, but encourage innovative approaches like new financing strategies, tackling liability costs for multi-family condo construction and ending “discriminatory occupancy limits,” which the governor said was an important way to break down housing barriers and create more equity.

One of his budget proposals for 2024 will include helping local governments build housing infrastructure in more transit-oriented neighborhoods by increasing opportunities for walking, biking, busing and all forms of transportation, he said.

A “moonshot” on passenger rail  

Intertwined with his vision of affordable housing, the governor was also confident in achieving his goal for better transit for all Coloradans in the years ahead.

But even as he talked about the need for better public transit across the state, housing was top of mind for the governor.

“In order to build housing near reliable transit, we need – you guessed – transit that actually works,” he said. “We have the planes, and we have the automobiles. We just need the trains.”

In his speech, Polis made a few references to President John F. Kennedy and the Apollo moon landing, calling the dream of passenger rail in Colorado another “moonshot” that’s been out of reach for too many people in our state due to funding, infrastructure woes and unforeseen delays.

“The problem of unfinished public transit has gone on far too long, and taxpayers are sick and tired of paying for services they’re not getting,” Polis said, referring to the long-awaited FASTtracks promise of train service from Union Station in Denver to Boulder, Longmont, Loveland and, finally, Fort Collins.

His vision doesn’t just stop at the Front Range rail, however. The governor hopes rail service to the mountains will also be a possibility in the future to connect “people to more housing, more businesses, and more jobs.”

“Yes, it’s big — and yes, it’s bold. But I’m here to tell you passenger rail service that works is within reach,” the governor said.

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To fulfill that promise, the state, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), and the Regional Transportation District (RTD) need to work together, something Polis was confident would get done.

Already, the federal government has approved more than $66 billion to create a world-class rail system for the country, a hopeful Polis remarked, adding that the only question was whether Colorado would seize the opportunity to get its fair share of those federal funds.

“If we move boldly this session to seize these unprecedented federal investments, we can lock in transformational passenger rail opportunities in time for our 150th birthday in 2026,” he said. “The story of our state’s founding and early economic success is intertwined with the historic railroad expansion of the 1800s, just as our dreams for the future will be intertwined with the expansion of passenger rail and transit-oriented communities.”

In his plea for better transit, Polis urged transportation agencies to “reexamine governance and operational efficiencies… to deliver better service to more people” in order to create a transportation system “that meets the needs of Coloradans while supporting more housing near transportation hubs and improving our air quality.”

A goal to make Colorado one of the safest states in the nation

Touting the state’s efforts to reduce gun violence and other crime, the governor touted the state’s investments over the last few years to train and support local law enforcement, which he said has resulted in more than 100 scholarships for recruits to attend the state-mandated POST Academy, as well as nearly 200 recruitment events across the state.

While early data shows a downward trend in crime, according to Polis, he argued investments must continue to be made to create safer communities for every Coloradan. In his speech, the governor said he wanted Colorado to become one of the 10 safest states in the nation by 2027. The state currently ranks near the end on that list.

On the issue of auto thefts, which have been another concern for Coloradans over the past several years, Polis delivered some good news: The state has seen a 21% year-over-year reduction in stolen vehicles (27% in Denver), “including a major reduction of auto theft at Denver International Airport.”

On gun violence, Polis said the state is modeling the way across the nation by not only strengthening the state’s red flag law, establishing waiting periods, requiring safe storage of firearms in homes where kids are present, or banning ghost guns, but will now move to propose additional investments to prevent convicted felons from illegally purchasing firearms.

Polis challenges both parties to improve Colorado’s economic growth

During his address, the governor once again called for cutting income tax rates, which he said was “the most effective way to further our economic growth” as the state will – for a second consecutive year – refund between $1.6 and $1.8 billion in 2024, which will amount to a $800 refund in this year’s tax returns for each Colorado taxpayer.

Though the TABOR surplus is a sign of a healthy economy, conversely, “it’s also a signal that the tax rate is too high,” Polis said.

“As demonstrated by our healthy surplus in Colorado, taxes are simply too high: Income taxes, property taxes, and the state sales tax,” he said, as he challenged both Democrats and Republicans to work together “on a bold, balanced, progressive package” that would include cutting the income tax rate. “We should use every tool we have to reduce property taxes without harming local services like fire protection and schools.”

Hateful, divisive rhetoric “unacceptable in Colorado”

Colorado is a state “for all” that welcomes everyone – no matter your country, your background, where you worship, or who you love, Polis said, as he decried the rise of antisemitism, Islamophobia and hate in all forms that has recently seen an uptick across the world.

And as the state gets closer to its 150th birthday, that slogan – “Colorado for All” – means “continuing to listen to one another and having the tough conversations around the issues that matter most,” Polis told lawmakers.

“Our very democracy depends on people being able to disagree with one another – passionately, emphatically – and still being able to work together with mutual respect and dignity,” Polis said. “When that is no longer possible, when policy arguments become personal attacks, and when people start to paint the other side not as colleagues who disagree, but as enemies, we are entering dangerous territory.”

As he wrapped up his speech, Polis called on those in the Chamber to “really work together, to disagree better, to show the nation how it’s done – The Colorado Way.”

“This work isn’t easy. If it were, it would’ve been done already,” he said.

Gov. Polis sets legislative goals on housing during State of the State address

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