DENVER (AP)– Colorado’s soaring cost of living and rising crime top a list of priorities outlined by Gov. Jared Polis and fellow Democratic leaders who control the statehouse for the 2022 legislative session that begins this week.
After two legislative sessions largely devoted to the coronavirus pandemic emergency, Polis and Senate and House leaders Monday say they also will focus on continuing efforts to limit health care costs, lay the groundwork for universal preschool education, invest in mental health services and tackle fire mitigation in the aftermath of the devastating Boulder County wildfire.
“You will see a real focus this session on saving people money,” Polis said at a briefing at the Capitol.
Part and parcel of that effort is limiting or eliminating fees on individual and business taxpayers, ranging from vehicle registrations to small business startup fees, according to the governor, who was joined by Senate President Leroy Garcia, Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, House Speaker Alec Garnett and House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar.
Republican lawmakers complained that the focus on fees, inflation and crime stole from their own pre-session playbook.
“I didn’t hear that two years ago,” House Minority Leader Hugh McKean said of the Democrats’ commitment to fee reduction.
“And now we find out, long after the fact, that really we need to pull all that stuff back.”
A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that management of the coronavirus pandemic is beginning to recede in the minds of Americans and is increasingly overshadowed by financial concerns — especially inflation — topics that could lift Republicans heading into the 2020 midterm elections.
Colorado’s inflation rate has reached 6.5%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, mirroring a national trend.
Colorado’s unemployment rate has improved markedly, reaching 3.9% in December, after a high of 14.7% in April 2020 as the pandemic hit full force. Polis and others committed to replenishing the state unemployment trust fund, depleted during the pandemic, in new ways so as to spare employers who pay into the fund.
Colorado, like much of the nation, also has seen escalating crime. In 2020 and 2021, lawmakers enacted a host of police accountability measures after the killing of George Floyd. This year, Democrats said, legislators will seek to invest in grants to local police departments, police recruitment and preventive measures designed to cut criminal recidivism rates and in behavioral health.
With the help of federal relief money, Democrats hope to create a revolving fund that would quickly finance affordable housing construction as well as the use of prefabricated housing to alleviate the state’s housing shortage, Garnett said.
Air quality, electrifying vehicle fleets and wildfire mitigation are part and parcel of upcoming initiatives to address climate change, Fenberg said, adding that Colorado is “just one windstorm, one spark away from the next unfortunate tragedy.”
The four-month legislative session begins Wednesday.
By JAMES ANDERSON Associated Press
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