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Here are the new government bodies Governor Polis has created

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Sara Wilson

(Colorado Newsline) During his first four years in office, Colorado Governor Jared Polis created eight new entities via executive order, ranging from unpaid commissions to entire new offices, to address an array of state issues.

Those entities account for millions of dollars of state spending. The rate at which new government bodies have popped up under Polis, however, is roughly in line with governors before him, and his administration argues that the new offices and other bodies benefit Coloradans.

The governor derives executive-order power to create state entities like offices, commissions and task forces through Article IV, Section 2 of the Colorado Constitution, which states that “the supreme executive power of the state shall be vested in the governor, who shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

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Jared Polis - elected Governor of Colorado in November 2018.

That constitutional power also lets him use executive orders to, among other things, declare disaster emergencies, issue pardons and commute sentences for people in the judicial system, and promulgate public health orders like those seen in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Polis administration has taken action since day one to make state government more efficient and save taxpayer money, and continues to streamline government services to ensure Coloradans continue to receive high-quality, efficient services and to meet the increased demands of a growing and thriving state,” Deputy Press Secretary Melissa Dworkin wrote in an email. “The Governor’s executive powers are spelled out in the state Constitution and in statute and the Governor takes a data-driven approach to ensure these actions deliver real results to Coloradans in an efficient, streamlined manner.”

Polis, a Democrat, has also had a hand in supporting and standing up various offices that were officially created by the Legislature during his tenure, though the legislative process is much clunkier than using executive power. That includes the Department of Early Childhood, which is overseeing an upcoming universal preschool program, the Public-Private Partnership Collaboration Unit and the Office of New Americans.

How Polis compares

Polis uses his executive order authority to create new entities at about the same pace as his predecessors.

During his first term from 2011 until 2014, former governor and current Sen. John Hickenlooper, also a Democrat, created 11 bodies. It wasn’t until Hickenlooper’s second term that he established two offices: the Office of State Innovation Model and the Office of eHealth Innovation.

Former Republican Gov. Bill Owens created eight bodies during his first term from 1999 until 2002. That included the Office of Preparedness and Security in 2001.

It was former Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter who avoided using executive power to expand government, primarily reserving executive orders for disaster declarations. He created just two entities using that power: the Office of Homeland Security and a sustainable Main Streets initiative.

Two new state offices

In his first year as governor, Polis created two new state offices through executive orders. They are the most complex and expansive entities he has created.

In January 2019, he established the Office of Saving People Money on Healthcare, headed by Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera. The stated goal in the executive order for the office is broad, to “work with the Governor to implement policies that will lower health care costs while ensuring all Coloradans have access to affordable, quality care.”

The governor’s office said OSPMHC plays a “central role” in realizing the administration’s promises to make health care more affordable.

“The office serves as a hub that brings together state agencies, community advocates, legislators, and other thought partners to coordinate and collaborate to save Coloradans money on health care,” a spokesperson said.

So far, that’s meant a few different things. In one of its first deliverables, the office released a detailed report in October 2021 that outlined the importance of addressing out-of-pocket expenses for Coloradans. In January of this year, the office released its report on Long COVID-19, a document that was required by legislation passed last year.

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In May, the office closed applications for a pilot Medical Financial Partnership program that will provide $150,000 grants for collaboration between medical and financial service providers to help patients navigate costs.

The governor’s office also touts other work the office has played a role in, including an ongoing effort to import prescription drugs from Canada, the strengthening of the state’s Prescription Drug Affordability Board and the creation of the Colorado Option health insurance plan.

The office will have spent over $1.3 million on various expenses by the end of the year, mostly on payroll, according to documents provided to Colorado Newsline.

The office started with four employees, including Primavera, in 2020. It now has six on its payroll with an average salary around $65,000, and 12 employees over its history, according to documents provided by the office. Primavera has had the highest average salary, ranging from about $83,000 to about $95,000. An office accounting spreadsheet lists about $35,000 in non-payroll and employee cost expenses since the office’s inception.

The Legislature has appropriated over $600,000 in general fund money for the office through various bills, including the bill that appoints Primavera to concurrently serve as head of the office and as lieutenant governor, as well as about $150,000 from the legislation that mandated a Long COVID-19 report.

The office is using about $200,000 annually appropriated to the governor’s office through fiscal year 2024-2025 to administer a Medical-Financial Partnership program and paid an outside vendor $60,000 to develop the grant application process.

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Polis also created the Office of Future of Work in 2019. The office, housed in the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, is a “central point of contact for the State’s efforts to respond to the rapidly changing nature of work,” according to the executive order establishing it. That includes responding to globalization, technological advances and demographic shifts.

The office was codified in statute through legislation this year that expanded and clarified its duties. There are currently 21 employees in the office, including Director Katherine Keegan. It has submitted annual reports to Polis in 2020, 2021 and 2022, as well as a study on Colorado independent contractors in 2021.

The office also oversees the State Apprenticeship Agency that was created through 2021 legislation and has created 96 new registered apprenticeship programs since 2022. The legislation appropriated about $550,000 for the SAA in fiscal year 2021-2022 and about $1 million in fiscal year 2022-2023. OFW is also implementing various apprenticeship expansion efforts funded by nearly $12 million in federal grant money. OFW had 20 employees as of June 20, according to office documents. Those employees’ average monthly salary is about $5,900. A temporary aid makes about $48 per hour.

A detailed transaction spreadsheet shows about $1.9 million in net spending since the office was established. Additionally, bank statements show about $77,000 in spending this year on travel, office supplies, catering, subscriptions and other items.

Non-office creations

Polis created some entities through executive order that don’t have the same costs as running a new office with staff and support. These commissions, task forces, advisory groups and other bodies don’t typically have staff but can incur expenses elsewhere. Some were temporary, while a few are ongoing.

The New Normal Advisory Board, for example, was created in 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to be a central point of contact as the state navigated early social distancing and stay-at-home orders. It had 10 members representing different local governments.

Also in 2020, Polis created the temporary Special Eviction Prevention Task Force within the Department of Local Affairs to look at housing instability caused by the pandemic and issue policy recommendations. The task force had 10 appointed members, met four times and presented a final report. That report and other meeting facilitation needs cost $9,900, according to DOLA.

As another pandemic response, Polis created the Colorado Jumpstart program in 2021 to incentivize people to return to work. Job seekers received either $1,600 or $1,200 one-time payments to become employed by a certain date, funded by the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund that used federal relief money.

A CDLE spokesperson said that the state spent about $35,000 on outreach advertising Colorado Jumpstart. The total payout to over 11,000 claimants was about $14.7 million.

The Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board evaluates name changes to geographic landmarks and public places around the state. The 15-member board has made several approved recommendations to Polis, including renaming Sq*** Mountain to Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain, scrubbing “sq***” from 28 places in Colorado and changing the name of Mount Evans to Mount Blue Sky, which is pending federal approval.

Polis created the Employment Ownership Commission in 2019 to complement the work of the Employee Ownership Office within the Office of Economic Development and International Trade. It comprises 12 unpaid commissioners and doesn’t have a budget, according to an OEDIT spokesperson. The commission works to educate, identify barriers to employee-ownership and establish a technical support network for businesses looking to convert to employee ownership. This year, employees took ownership of Beau Jo’s Pizza, one of 230 employee-owned companies OEDIT counts.

Polis created the Colorado Outdoor Regional Partnerships Initiative and Inter-Agency Conservation and Recreation Council in 2020 to create and formalize collaborations for outdoor recreation and conservation. Though not as complex as a new office, the initiative reports about $1.2 million in expenditures since its inception. That includes about $39,000 in operating expenses, $94,000 in contracted services and $192,000 in employee salaries for one full-time employee and one temporary staff member. It has also spent a little over $900,000 for reimbursed work for various grant recipients, but award amounts exceed that.

The initiative awarded about $1.6 million in grants during 2021 and 2022 and recently announced about $1.5 million more in grant awards.

Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.