Gov. Polites on air quality, vaccinations and masking in schools
Warner: Let’s move on to climate change and air quality. We’ve had a lot of questions about this on Twitter. People are very concerned about ground level ozone, which can cause coughing and shortness of breath. It can make asthma and bronchitis worse. There have been more ozone alerts on the Front Range this summer than at any time since the state began keeping records a decade ago, and car emissions are a major ingredient. Twitter user @elemdoubleu says the Polis administration “talks about the quality of the air when we get smoke from further west.” But what about the larger problem that is under our control, ozone? Will [Polis] implement policies that reduce driving and oil and gas emissions, especially on bad air days?
Gov. Polis: Well, first of all, the absolutely horrible air quality that we experienced for several weeks this summer was due to those fires in California.
Warner: Obviously that’s not true, Governor. We know that the main source –
Govt. Polis: It’s absolutely true. Ryan; Ryan, that’s absolutely true. And what you say is wrong. It was the air quality of the Dixie Fire that caused the problems. If you’re talking about ground-level ozone, that’s a whole different question. I’m talking about the air quality I’ve heard from constituents across the state, [which was] almost entirely [from] the Dixie fires. Not Colorado, not our cars, ground ozone is different. It is not the air quality issue that I hear from constituents every day.
Warner: But certainly, you have to admit though, that ozone and air quality are related.
Gov. Polis: Ozone is a component of air quality, but no one has heard of it. What I heard was “I can’t breathe because there is ash in the air”. I can’t even see 100 meters from my house. I am coughing and I am sick. And I encourage people to go out and take COVID tests because these are some of the same symptoms COVID has.
And last summer [in 2020], it was the result of some of the Colorado fires, the three largest fires in our state’s history, directly related to climate change. This is why my administration has essentially declared a climate emergency by taking urgent action to reduce our carbon emissions in all sectors and reach 100% renewable energy by 2040. We have already locked down 80% renewable energy by 2030. This is a crisis that we are seeing directly in the impact of the fires, the mudslides in Glenwood Canyon this summer. We have two heavily dependent climate industries in our state, agriculture, tourism and recreation, including skiing, which are directly at the forefront and impacted by the climate crisis.
Warner: It’s true that I can’t justify what people were complaining about. But I know the state is at risk of becoming a serious ozone violator under the EPA, which could increase federal regulation. As you said, ozone is a component of air quality. So I ask you, apart from the fires, does the bad air this summer reflect that you are moving too slowly, Governor?
Govt. Polis: Well, first of all, we’re moving as fast as we can on the climate. This is one of the reasons I ran for office. This is an emergency that calls for intervention at the emergency level. When I was elected, we called a climate cabinet, which is everything: the Ministry of Transport, Natural Resources. The cabinet meets regularly to take the steps we can as a state to act.
Colorado had poor air quality from wildfires. And guess what? We were not alone. There were many other cities in the American West that had the worst air quality in the country at different times. Bend, Oregon, Salt Lake City, Reno, Boise. Small towns and big cities. And it was through rural Colorado and urban Colorado. And this is a climate-related crisis.
I think some of the defenders are talking about it the wrong way. What they should be saying is, “Look at this, because of the drier, longer summer and warmer conditions, we have record forest fires. And that’s yet another reason why we need to act on the climate now. With a warmer and drier climate, there is an extreme risk of fire, which not only destroys property, but it is also fair to talk about the significant impact on air quality of large-scale fires.
Warner: Overall, transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state and your goal is to cut emissions in the transportation sector by 40% by 2030. But the state’s energy director said last week that the existing rules would only affect the state about two-thirds of the way. And the rest is based on policies that don’t yet exist or that depend on federal money. Can the State Meet Its Car and Truck Emissions Target?
Governor Polis: Well, there we are, Ryan. You say the glass is a third empty. I say the glass is two-thirds full. How exciting it is that we are two-thirds of the way – locked in place – to achieving our 2030 target of reducing transport by 40%. That leaves eight more years to find the other third of the infill and of course we’ll find out.
A big part of that, frankly, is Senate Bill 260, which is a forward-looking green approach to transportation. For the first time, we are funding support for zero-emission vehicles, charging stations, multimodal transport, all of which is locked. Of course, we are also adopting policies to move quickly to electric vehicles, as well as a greener grid, which is a big part of achieving these goals for 2030 and beyond.
Warner: Before I go, I want to talk about one final topic: state income tax. I was interested in the comments you made recently at a meeting in Steamboat Springs. You are in favor of eliminating state income tax. Why?
Gov. Polis: Well, definitely, when it comes to any tax, I think every Coloradan feels the lower the better. At the same time, of course, we need to fund our schools, our roads and other important public priorities.
I think there are better ways to do it than income tax. Income tax is a tax on profit, a tax on success. I’d rather find a way to tax the things we don’t do, like pollution. We talked about air quality – what a great way to reduce ozone if, instead of taxing income, you tax some of the precursors or types of activities that form ozone in your state that are at ground level. So look forward to exploring these possibilities of reducing or eliminating income tax to help make Colorado more prosperous.
Warner: When you say reduce, would you do it at all levels? Or would you, for example, want to reduce it for the poorest people and tax the richest people at a higher rate? What do you think?
Govt. Polis: I think it’s more realistic to reduce it than to get rid of it. I said, as a policy statement, that I wish I didn’t have it. Of course it is. I don’t see this as something I’m chasing, Ryan. I’m not saying get rid of it.
What I would recommend is to reduce it. When I took office, the income tax rate was 4.63%. It is now permanently 4.55% and for next year we will be 4.5%. So we overthrow him. At the same time, we’re making sure it doesn’t take a dime off our public schools or any other priority. We are finding new ways to invest at record levels in public education, kindergarten, kindergarten, health care and now roads with our new transport infrastructure package, which invests $ 5 billion in public transport infrastructure. green and traditional infrastructure over the next decade.
Warner: If you were to tax pollution, who would you tax? Give me an example of that, on the ground where the ozone is?
Gov. Polis: You and I, in a conversation, are not going to develop a new tax system to replace income tax. But, I think there are a lot of great ideas that have been explored. This is something that the Congress and the Senator of the United States [John] Hickenlooper sought to support. It’s something that I think it’s high time for the state level to have this conversation. And while it won’t abolish income tax, maybe instead of 4.5 [percent], we can reduce it to three and a half or three, or two and a half. On a revenue neutral basis. I want your listeners [to] understand when I say I’m not talking about anything that would cost our schools, our roads, or our health care a dime. In fact, there may be opportunities to invest even more in our schools by reducing income taxes.