COLORADO SPRINGS, Co. - Despite having served in the U.S. House for 10 years, Gov. Jared Polis is still a bit of a mystery to those outside his former congressional district.
So with his campaign for governor over and his oath taken, KRDO NewsChannel 13 caught up with the state's new leader to discuss some of the hottest topics impacting this particular corner of Colorado.
(Scroll down or CLICK HERE for the full interview)
Likely the most divisive issue Southern Colorado has seen recently is teacher pay. It boiled over in Pueblo last year when educators went on strike for five days, and other districts were forced to shut down due to the large number of teachers attending a rally in Denver for school funding and better benefits.
When asked what the state can do, if anything, to provide local districts some relief, Polis responded by touting one of his campaign promises: free full-day kindergarten.
He believes using state money to cover that cost will allow districts that currently offer it for free to spend that money elsewhere.
"That would free up district funds, and they would, in fact, be able to pay educators better, have smaller class size, add more programs in districts like D11, D12, Pueblo D60, the districts that are currently trying to scrounge around and pull money out of other programs to fund kindergarten," he explained.
The only problem is that the new state money might not go very far.
For example, Colorado Springs District 11 only spends about $2.4 million a year on its free full-day kindergarten program.
Even if the state were to cover the entire cost, which is not clear yet, that money could only provide D11's 2000 teachers about another $1,200 each, if spread out equally.
In districts that already charge parents for full-day kindergarten, the new money would only free up money for parents, not the district.
The governor was also asked about taxes, specifically as it relates to transportation funding.
In November, Colorado voters declined two proposals that would have funded improvements across the state, leaving state lawmakers scrambling for options.
Polis said CDOT's annual budget only includes enough to maintain the roads we have now, not to build more.
He believes any new projects would need help from voters, whether through approving bonds to pay for a particular project, or approving using excess tax revenue toward construction, like El Paso County did in 2017 for the I-25 expansion.
"You can never get the improvements you need just out of the year-to-year annual funding," said Polis. "We're kind of keeping together what we have. We have an enormous backlog with current funding levels that would probably take decades to meet. So yes, you need some form of bonding or voter-approved mechanism."
With Democrats in control of the state House, Senate, and governor's office, many fear the list of new gun control laws this year will be long.
However, according to the governor, that may not be the case.
Polis said the only issue he knows lawmakers are working on is "red flag legislation", creating a system to temporarily take away guns from someone going through a confirmed mental crisis.
Calls for this type of legislation intensified after a tragedy one year ago when Douglas County Deputy Zach Parrish was fatally shot while responding to a domestic disturbance.
The man at the center of the disturbance, Matthew Riehl, had been diagnosed with mental illness but was never forced to give up his collection of firearms.
Polis said lawmakers need to be careful about how any red flag legislation is crafted.
"Not only does there need to be a medical professional, there also needs to be a judicial process around this. But this is a real issue in the suicide rate, it's a real issue with gun violence, and we look forward to working with Republicans and Democrats to do something about it," he said.
When asked about other gun control measures like bans on assault weapons or further limiting gun magazine limits, he said he wasn't aware of any bills addressing those currently being discussed among lawmakers.
Next Thursday at 10 p.m., KRDO NewsChannel 13's Krystal Story will take a more in-depth look at the issue of red flag legislation in her story "Red Flag Realities."