DENVER — Despite his call for 100% renewable energy and the announcement that a coal power plant is to close in northwest Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis was met with climate-change protesters who had to be dragged out of the gallery of the Colorado House moments before his second State-of-the-State Address on Thursday.
Those protesters, about 20 of whom were arrested before it was over, included one man who had super-glued his hands together to prevent him from being arrested.
In his nearly hourlong speech, Polis repeated his call for 100% renewable energy by 2040, and said the state would be on hand to help displaced Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association workers at the Craig plant and nearby coal mines retrain for jobs in the renewable energy field.
“We need to recognize the disruption caused to workers, families and communities that are impacted by the private sector’s turn away from coal,” Polis said. “That’s why I intend to work with utilities, including Tri-State and our new Office of Just Transition to expand opportunities in renewable energy, and helping ensure that no worker and no community is left behind.”
Polis said that can be done because something similar is occurring now in Pueblo, where a steel plant has created hundreds of jobs by building a solar power plant large enough to handle its power needs. Like Tri-State, Xcel Energy is planning to close a similar coal-fired power plant there years before it initially expected.
While Polis earned praise from his Democratic colleagues in the Legislature for his push for more renewable energy, Republicans were more skeptical that can be done in Craig.
“What we’ve done to the Western Slope on the coal issue, it’s had a real damaging effect on rural Colorado,” said House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock. “Throwing little table scraps to that area, it’s not doing any good in replacing those good-paying jobs. How do you console a young child when their parents can no longer pay their mortgage? That’s tough.”
Polis did propose some things that Republicans liked, such as finding a way to permanently reduce the state’s income tax rate.
The governor said he wants Democrats and Republicans to form a special panel to help find a way to reduce that rate without lowering the revenues the state currently receives.
“I’m very enthusiastic about working with you to deliver permanent income tax relief, and we should continue down this path of eliminating tax breaks for special interests so that we can lower the rates for everyone without reducing state revenue,” Polis said.
“A broader base taxed at a lower rate will boost economic growth with the ancillary benefit of preventing the corrosive influence of crony capitalism.”
That last part earned Polis a standing ovation from the Republican side of the House, while Democrats remained in their seats. Normally, it’s the other way around.
Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker, said the governor alerted him that he was going to make that proposal.
“It’s admirable that we have a Democrat, some would say progressive, others would say he has a libertarian streak, but we have a governor who’s willing to discuss the benefits of lowering income taxes, and how that might actually result in the same or more dollars because more prosperity would result,” Holbert said.
Colorado taxpayers are already getting a temporary reduction in the state’s 4.63% income tax rate — to 4.5% — as part of a refund under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights when they file their income tax returns by April for the 2019 tax year.
That temporary reduction could continue for two more years because state economists are predicting revenues will continue to exceed TABOR caps possibly into 2022.
Polis also talked about continuing reforms to lower the cost of health care in the state, including prescription drug prices, getting more children into preschool programs, creating a family leave act, finding a long-term funding solution for transportation and improving the state’s park system.
“The state of our state is strong, it’s forward thinking, it’s dynamic, it’s bold, it’s courageous,” Polis said at the close of his address.
“Let’s get to work and show the world what we can accomplish together.”