DENVER — Governor Jared Polis (D-Colorado) delivered the 2021 State of the State address on Wednesday morning.
Polis began his third State of the State address by acknowledging the many challenges faced by Colorado and the entire nation over the past year including the COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting global recession, record-breaking wildfires, political turmoil and systemic discrimination faced by communities of color.
"In short, this has been one of the most challenging years of our lifetimes," Polis said.
Polis also took a few opportunities to acknowledge many professional groups including health care workers, firefighters who battled massive wildfires, grocery store employees and many others.
A moment of silence was also held for the 5,655 Coloradans who had lost their lives to COVID-19 as of Wednesday.
"Each loss is seared into the soul of our state," Polis said.
The goals of the state have remained the same since the pandemic began, according to Polis. The top priorities are to avoid overwhelming hospitals, saving lives and ensuring economic stability for families and small business until the vaccine is successfully rolled out, Polis said.
Polis spoke about state pandemic relief, reducing the cost of healthcare and transportation funding. Polis has proposed a $1 billion-plus economic stimulus plan to create jobs and get the state back on track to rebound financially in wake of the pandemic.
He highlighted nearly $24 million raised for the Colorado COVID Relief Fund, which has been distributed to more than 1,000 business in all 64 counties.
He also stressed the importance of efforts to improve the economy including tax relief and loans for small business, boosting industries like tourism and renewable energy, and investing in improving transportation infrastructure.
Polis proposed eliminating the business personal property tax for tens of thousands of small businesses, which he says would save them time and money.
He also proposed doubling the Earned Income Tax Credit to provide up to $600 in tax credits per child for nearly 200,000 families in the state.
Finally, Polis proposed eliminating the tax on seniors' Social Security benefits.
"And as Coloradans face tough times, we need to help folks get back on their feet and make life more affordable in our state — from job training, to more affordable housing, to reducing the tax burden on middle-class families," Polis said.
The governors' 2021 budge proposal includes items that he said could jumpstart the economy including repairing roads across the state, investing in rural communities, and projects to create wildlife crossings and migration corridors.
"These shovel-ready projects are tried-and-true measures to boost the economy in tough times — creating good jobs for hardworking Coloradans while improving the quality of life for all of us," Polis said.
He also highlighted ongoing efforts by the state in the transportation industry to speed up electrification, expand transit options, reducing gas costs, reducing emissions and improving air quality.
WATCH: 1-on-1 with Polis talking unemployment, vaccines after his State of the State address
Colorado COVID-19 vaccine distribution
About 60% of Colorado's population over age 70 has been vaccinated as of Wednesday, very close to the state's goal of at least 70% by the end of February.
Polis said vaccinating the over 70 population, who represent about 78% of the state's COVID-19 deaths, is the most crucial step toward reducing fatalities.
However, Polis said that the end of current COVID-related restrictions is still likely months away and urged residents to continue social distancing, wearing masks and taking other precautions as vaccination distribution continues.
He also said the pandemic has further showed inequities faced by Coloradans of color, which is why the state is committing portions of vaccine supplies to community health centers, and other initiatives like pop-up clinics in rural and underserved urban areas.
"We will continue pursuing every possible opportunity and innovation to get the lifesaving vaccine to you and your loved ones as quickly as we can — no matter who you are, no matter where you live," Polis said. "We are determined to leave no one behind."
During last year's address, before the coronavirus pandemic lead to the shutdown of many Colorado businesses, the focus was on those left behind by Colorado's stampeding economy.
"From student loans to health care costs to unaffordable housing, Coloradans feel like they are running faster and faster, but not getting ahead," Polis said in his 2020 speech. "Too many of our fellow Coloradans are anxious that one hardship — a job loss, a medical emergency, a recession, a natural disaster, or some other unforeseen challenge — will send them into a financial tailspin."
He said stagnation was not in the state's nature. Polis spoke of expanding access to preschool and taking steps to tackle climate change.
He peppered last year's address with suggestions to do more on school safety, rural economic development, industrial hemp, lowered income taxes, public lands, jobs for veterans and student debt relief.
> Video below: Last COVID-19 update Polis gave prior to the State of the State address.
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