On September 30, Colorado Concern, a “network of chief executives on a mission to protect and enhance the economic growth environment in the State of Colorado,” hosted a forum for senior business executives and elected officials to hear the two candidates for Colorado governor, incumbent Gov. Jared Polis and challenger CU Regent Heidi Ganahl.  The event was billed as providing each of them with “uninterrupted time to expand on policy issues related to business and the state economy in a robust policy conversation moderated by Dean Singleton.” Long known as a force of nature in the newspaper industry in Colorado and around the country, Singleton owned the Denver Post from 1987 to 2013.

CU Regent at Large Heidi Ganahl, GOP candidate for governor

Singleton was solely responsible for formulating the questions for each candidate, based on their stated positions, policies, and actions. Each candidate had 25 minutes to engage with the moderator in a question-and-answer format.

Ganahl, who went first, said she would begin her governorship by “undoing a lot of the regulations, taxes, and fees that are burdening small business owners and families, that are making it harder for families to afford groceries, gas and school supplies.”

Singleton promptly went to Ganahl’s plan to eliminate Colorado’s income tax, which brought $8.3 billion into state coffers last year, and to cut the state’s gas tax in half, reducing by 50% the $594 million it produced for the state treasury last year. He asked her, “What would you replace it with?” Ganahl responded, “We have a spending problem, not a revenue problem in Colorado,” adding, “We have states across our nation that are some of the hottest in the economy that have zero income tax, and no, I’m not going to increase other taxes to do this.”

The moderator pushed back, saying, “It kind of makes the b.s. meter go up, because you can’t cut that much revenue and not replace it. Are you going to eliminate the State Police? Are you going to eliminate the Highway Department, the Transportation Department? You’d have to cut out massive parts of the government.” Ganahl was unphased, explaining, “Actually, we don’t, Dean. I have some great economists helping me figure this out. If we move fees to taxes, which they actually are, there’s a billion there. If we find some fraud and waste in the budget… another billion or so there. How about we bring new businesses and industry to Colorado like they do in other zero income (tax) states? We think that’s $2 billion to $3 billion to refill the coffers. How about we get rid of special tax exemptions? How about we reduce the size of government by 10% a year? Gov. Polis has grown the size of government by over 20% since he got into office. He’s added 4,000 new employees, 85 new taxes and fees… The job creators of our state are going to help me go to zero income tax.”

Undeterred, Singleton came back again with, “As long as I’ve been in the newspaper business (he was in it for over 50 years) I’ve heard politicians say they’re going to solve all our problems by cutting out waste but none of them ever have… How do you think you’re going to do that?” Ganahl was prepared, offering, “In my first weeks as governor, I’m going to hire a special audit committee and look at all of the budget and provide transparency.” She contrasted that plan with the efforts she has made since being elected to her current position in 2016, noting, “As a regent of the University of Colorado… I have had a terrible time getting real numbers about how the money is spent.” 

The moderator finally moved on to the issue of transportation. Ganahl said  that we should use transportation dollars to “fix our darn roads,” rather than spending the money on other transportation options. When Singleton asked if she was concerned about the smog problem in Denver, she said, “Seventy percent of our ozone problem is not from us. It’s from out of state or its from natural sources… The governor has gone too far, too fast, with this Green New Deal and it’s destroying Colorado.”

Singleton ended where he began, saying, “You still haven’t told us how you’re going to run the government with no state income tax and with half of the gasoline tax. It makes a good soundbite, but for most of us who understand state government, it’s just total b.s. (this time he said the whole word).” The candidate gave as good as she got, telling him, “A lot of people across Colorado think that the government is total b.s. (she said it, too) right now…People are fed up with the out-of-control spending, with the lack of transparency.”

In the second half of the forum, the moderator asked Gov. Polis to describe his most important accomplishments of the past four years. He named all-day kindergarten, universal pre-school, having the ninth lowest death rate in the U.S. from Covid-19, the state transportation plan “which my opponent said she would repeal, which fundamentally invests about $5 billion into our roads and bridges,” and “securing Colorado’s clean energy future.”

Singleton wanted to know what Polis’ second term would look like, should he be re-elected. The governor said we need to, “remove barriers to housing and address it as the interjurisdictional issue that it is—I’m all for local control, but when the decisions of one community affect neighboring communities, as they do in water, as they do in transportation, and as they do in housing, we have to make sure we have a regional, statewide plan for more homes that people can afford to buy close to where the jobs are and along transit corridors.” He also talked about finding a way to keeping property taxes low in the context of the 2020 repeal of the Gallagher Amendment.

Next, the moderator told Gov. Polis that oil and gas leaders were unhappy with the state of regulations for their industry. Polis pointed to having achieved regulatory stability, as well as including local communities in decisions, and putting health and safety first. He conceded that the state could do a better job by having the required resources for the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission to carry out its duties expeditiously. Singleton noted that oil and gas production has declined and wanted to know why Polis thought industry executives would choose to invest additional capital in a difficult regulatory environment? The Governor blamed the prior decline in production to low prices, noting that production increased during the past year when prices rose. 

Regarding plans to address climate change, Polis said that Colorado can benefit from the clean energy economy as Xcel Energy moves to “80% low cost solar and wind (energy) by 2030.” Focusing on the remaining 20% of energy needs, he said, “As chair of the bipartisan Western Governors Association, I established my initiative as ‘Heat Beneath Our Feet,’ (a program) to tap into our geothermal resources for that base load,” as part of the combination of hydro, nuclear and other sources of energy that comprise the 20%.  

Singleton moved to the issue of adequate water to support current and future growth. Polis explained that, he, like any governor, would fight to maximize the benefit for Coloradans, but, he said, “The complex, legal world around water” could not be ignored. He pointed to the crucial role of water in the agriculture industry and the role of water in shaping housing policy, emphasizing that, “We cannot pit one area of Colorado against another,” where water is concerned. Rather, it is important that the water industry works together with business, developers, and environmentalists to consider all needs, including agriculture, in developing the best policy within the legal framework, concluding, “We have to tie our water security policy with our land use policy.”

Singleton pointed to the increase in crime, including auto theft and drug use. He said that mayors and chiefs of police in Colorado see, “legislation passed by a Democratic legislature and signed by you (as being) one of the driving forces that’s driven this crime wave.” Polis responded, “I think the state has already started to move toward better support for law enforcement, stronger sentencing on fentanyl… to establish much tougher criminal penalties around fentanyl,” adding, “We were one of the first states in the country to add new criminal penalties around pill presses (that) were being used to put fentanyl into other products to unknowingly poison Coloradans.” He said that, in addition to prosecutorial tools, “It’s also about resources,” comparing it to Ganahl’s tax plan, which Polis said would “gut law enforcement and (the Department of) Corrections, of money.” He compared Ganahl’s plan to his, in which, he said, “We did about $160 million bipartisan package (with) supports for grants for local law enforcement,” and that it also supports behavioral health specialists to “prevent crime before it occurs,” along with diversion programs for youth. 

On a question about transportation, Polis pointed to the “state bipartisan transportation funding bill of $5 billion over ten years,” passed by the legislature, as allocating “70% to roads and bridges” and 30% to “bike lanes, transit and other things.”