Gov. Polis visits Sterling during state re-election campaign tour Friday

Gov. Jared Polis stopped in Sterling Friday as part of a four-day tour of the state to officially launch his re-election campaign.

His visit brought him to Sterling Creatives, the artists cooperative in the downtown business district, which he celebrated as a prime example of rural economic development: a small business supporting Main Street, generating sales tax revenue for the city as well as supporting local artists.

Polis highlighted accomplishments that he said have benefitted rural Colorado during his tenure. “There’s a lot that we’re doing but I don’t know if that story always gets out,” he said.

He included among them the signing this week of a bill to ensure broadband access to 99% of Colorado homes and businesses in the next four years, which he said is important for everything from work to education to health.

Polis said the state has invested heavily in the ag economy by taking a “forward-looking approach to how we can make Colorado more competitive in these growing areas.” That includes supporting best practices in water efficiency, agri-voltaics – using the same land for production agriculture and renewable energy, soil health and rural economic development.

The governor also touted the implementation of statewide full-day kindergarten and voter approval of universal free preschool as accomplishments in education, which he cited as one of his key areas of focus. He noted that his proposed budget would increase school funding by over 8% and that a record level in reserves will keep education funding stable going forward.

Another area Polis said he’s focused on is saving Coloradans money on health care. He said the state’s reinsurance program has been able to lower premiums for those purchasing their own health insurance through the state exchange by an average of 24% statewide, a figure that is even higher in rural areas. Reforms to the payment formulas for Medicaid have helped shore up rural hospitals and health care providers to ensure rural communities continue to have access to health care.

Polis said the next area he’s focusing on is the cost of living in Colorado. He mentioned that the lowering of the assessment rate has reduced property taxes for homeowners and agricultural land owners, and the state income tax rate has also been reduced. He’s looking for ways to cut fees, such as waiving licensing fees for nurses and behavioral health care providers, and noted that the annual parks pass costs will be reduced this year.

He noted that the past few years have been particularly challenging, both due to impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the historic wildfires that have occurred.

“We have a lot of work ahead,” he said. “I’m running for governor again to really move Colorado forward.”

Gov. Jared Polis speaks with supporters at a campaign stop in Sterling Friday, Feb. 18, 2022. (Sara Waite/Journal-Advocate)

Polis also took a few questions from those gathered to see him. One person mentioned the population decline in Logan County, noting that it was likely similar for many other rural counties, and asked what could be done to support those communities with shrinking tax bases. Polis pointed to initiatives that improve and promote the quality of life in rural areas, including recruiting businesses to the state that can offer “location independent” or telecommuting positions so people can work remotely.

Education was also a major concern for some of the guests. One brought up funding, comparing Sterling’s per pupil funding to other, smaller school that receive more per student, which helps them attract students from the RE-1 district. Other issues brought up included outside money coming into school board races, which Polis said will hopefully be addressed by a bill going through the legislature this session that would limit contributions in those elections. Teacher shortages are another big challenge facing RE-1 as well as many other districts across the state, and Polis pointed to a program at one district that is identifying high school students interested in education and helping ensure they can achieve that goal to hopefully bring them back to their home community as teachers.

Some of Polis’ stumbles when it comes to reaching out to ag producers and rural Coloradans were mentioned, such as the Meat Out proclamation last year that led to a strong response from cattle producers and a number of “Meat In” events around the state. While Polis said he was glad to see that response and the resulting benefit to cattlemen from robust meat sales, he rejected the idea that there is a “war” on rural Colorado.

“There is no Colorado without rural Colorado,” he said, adding that the cities are also just as critical to the state as they provide a market for those ag products. “We’re in this together.”

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