Polis Scoreboard: What Promises Did the Governor Keep and Break?

Gov. Jared Polis speaks to a supporter at a rally Oct. 26 in Golden, Colorado. Photo: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Governor Jared Polis made a lot of promises to get elected in 2018.

Why is this important: Whether he kept them or not is a metric Colorado voters will use to determine whether the Democrat deserves a second term.

State of play: A review by Axios Denver of the 129 campaign promises documented in the Colorado Sun’s “Polis Promise Tracker” reveals that it retained many of them, especially expensive items such as abolishing the death penalty and protecting the access to abortion.

  • Our findings, taken from the full original database, essentially mirror what the Sun recently found in its analysis. Polis did a lot in his first term, but failed in key areas.
  • An important caveat: he cannot take full credit for many of the promises he has kept. It took a team, including the Democratic majority in the Legislative Assembly.

Between the lines: John spearheaded the project to track Polis’ pledges from the 2018 campaign. And that didn’t go unnoticed by the governor, who often referenced his pledges and the tracker in conversations. His team also documented his progress.

What we found: In our review, we found dozens of promises the governor has kept and many more for which he can only claim partial credit.

  • Others have stalled or remain ongoing, such as efforts to convert the state to 100% renewable energy by 2040 and eliminate special tax breaks.
  • Some promises that Polis broke.

Here’s how he fared on 10 significant issues:

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More transportation dollars: Polis pledged to form a bipartisan coalition to find new sources of revenue to improve state roads and ease traffic congestion.

  • Verdict: In 2021, he signed Senate Bill 260 which created $3.8 billion in new fees for Colorado drivers and services to fund road projects, transit and climate initiatives.
  • To note : Still, the Polis administration is scrapping an Interstate 25 expansion through Denver, which means congestion will still be a big problem.

“Red flag” law: Polis said a “red flag” law would make the state safer by reducing “easy access to guns.”

  • Verdict: Legislation enacted in 2019 gives law enforcement and judges the ability to take weapons deemed to pose a significant risk. An analysis showed that it mostly worked as intended.

Local oil and gas control: Polis said local governments needed more power to approve oil and gas development and wanted to review house setbacks to “protect health and safety”.

  • Verdict: In one of the first major battles of his administration, Polis backed Senate Bill 181 to overhaul oil and gas regulations and give local authorities more control. State oil and gas regulators then implemented a 2,000-foot buffer zone between the drilling and homes and schools.

Improve hospital transparency: To reduce health care costs, Polis said hospitals should be required to disclose more financial information to consumers.

  • Verdict: He signed House Bill 1001 in 2019 and a 2020 measure that prohibited hospitals from suing patients for unpaid bills if they did not post prices. Whether the legislation reduced prices is a more complicated question, but a recent report by the state hospital association suggested costs were lower than the national average.

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Full-time kindergarten: The governor’s top priority when he took office was free full-day kindergarten.

  • Verdict: The Governor mostly delivered – but there are some important caveats. One, it’s not free; taxpayers foot the bill. Second, it’s optional for school districts and it’s only expected to increase enrollment to 85%, from 81% when it was approved.

Paid family leave: Polis wanted “every Coloradan” to have paid family and medical leave.

  • Verdict: Colorado voters — not Polis — approved a paid vacation program, and the governor didn’t like the way it was implemented. He had a different idea that failed in the Legislative Assembly. Also, several local governments are opting out, which means not everyone will get it.

End payment: Polis linked his call for ‘equal pay‘ with pledging to stop using a woman’s salary history for state jobs as ‘one of my first acts as governor’ .

  • Verdict: Colorado passed an equal pay law in 2019 that went into effect in 2021. It requires salaries and promotions to be posted. But didn’t make the state hiring change one of the “first acts.”

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TABOR review: Polis pledged to “build a coalition” to win approval at the polls for the Taxpayer Bill of Rights reforms, including changing spending limits.

  • Verdict: Polis backed the CC proposal in the 2018 ballot to scrap the caps, but it failed in an electoral referendum. He had broad support in the business community, but the Conservatives helped defeat him.

Wages follow inflation: Polis told workers, especially those on low incomes, that he would “make sure incomes keep pace with the cost of living.

  • Verdict: Employers are raising wages and the minimum wage is rising, but it’s not keeping up with the cost of living, state economists say. In Colorado, real wages have fallen 1.7% since 2018.

100 Day Healthcare Review: During his first 100 days in office, Polis outlined a 10-point plan he described as “common sense steps” to cut costs and improve care in Colorado.

  • Verdict: He accomplished some elements, but failed with others, and overall his plan fell short of his self-imposed deadline.

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