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Colorado's Governor on stimulus and vaccines in his state

Governor Jared Polis (D-CO) talked with Yahoo Finance's Rick Newman about what Colorado needs from Washington DC, how the vaccine rollout is going so far, and his own personal experience of contracting the coronavirus.

Video Transcript

RICK NEWMAN: Hi, everybody. I'm Rick Newman. And joining us today is Jared Polis, the Democratic governor of Colorado, joining us online from Boulder, Colorado. Thanks for joining us, governor.

JARED POLIS: Always a pleasure, Rick.

RICK NEWMAN: So there's this ongoing drama in Washington, about its sixth month. We're apparently going to get a stimulus bill sometime soon. But it is not going to include state and local aid. This has been very controversial. What does that mean for Colorado?

JARED POLIS: Well, look, we've seen the outline. And I agree with the president-elect, Biden, who said this is really a down payment. They can always do more later. But I think this is a great idea. It funds the vaccine delivery, funds the testing. That's critical for the states. I mean, otherwise, people need to realize that testing funding goes away in December, there's no money for vaccine distribution.

And also, I think they're talking about including a direct payment to people-- $500, $600, $700. That would be absolutely terrific, really injecting that money into the economy, especially for those who need it.

RICK NEWMAN: And aid for businesses, which you also need in Colorado, right?

JARED POLIS: Absolutely. We're thrilled. We had our own-- we did our own state stimulus. We had a special session of our legislature, bipartisan tax breaks for restaurants, allowing them to keep the sales tax they collect rather than send it to the state. Direct aid for businesses that are capacity-limited and help for child care.

But no one can-- no state can do something the size and scope of the federal government. So to step up with another PPP-type program is just going to be such a blessing to help American businesses position themselves well for the recovery and avoid further layoffs.

RICK NEWMAN: So let's say this bill gets passed, it's around maybe $900 billion. This part has been left out, which is direct aid to states and cities. Do you need that in addition?

JARED POLIS: Well, I think-- I'm a big fan of local administration. I think cities, counties, states know what's going on in the ground. And the closer you bring that level of government to the people, I think the more effective any kind of stimulus can be. But look, you don't look a gift horse in the mouth. And I think this is, you know, a good package.

There is indirect aid to help state priorities. There's help for school districts, as an example. That goes right out to the schools, they're largely funded by states. That help states' budgets indirectly. And then there's direct funding for testing and vaccine distribution. It's important people realize how expensive that these are and that states aren't in a position to take that on in addition to what they do without federal help.

And so I think funding the health response has got to be a priority. Frankly, I'm glad to see Republicans and Democrats get together on anything. And it looks like a good package for the country.

RICK NEWMAN: People who follow the dueling press conferences inside the Beltway in Washington, I mean, get the sense that Democrats are outraged that Republicans won't include more state and local aid. You don't seem to feel that way, you seem to feel like this is a welcome legislative development.

JARED POLIS: Well, of course it would be great to have more locally administered aid. But whether the state sends it out, we sent out a $375 one-time payment to folks who had experienced unemployment, a few hundred thousand Coloradans, but we don't have the capability as a state to send out $600 to everybody in our state. No state does. That needs to come federally.

So we welcome it. I think help for state and local would be great. It looks like in this package there's some indirect help for school districts, for funding the health response. There's always the opportunity to do more later, but there is a fierce urgency about getting something done here concurrent with the omnibus as, quite literally, states run out of funding for vaccine distribution and testing, two critical health responses in the next couple weeks.

RICK NEWMAN: So vaccine distribution is just getting started. You've had a rollout in your state. What are your expectations in terms of how much vaccine you're going to get, how quickly you'll be able to get people vaccinated, and the funding stream that you need, as you've been mentioning?

JARED POLIS: In this first week, Colorado got about 46,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. That's based on our pro rata share of the population. We're going to get over 90,000 Moderna vaccines, hopefully as soon as Saturday, Sunday, Monday, as soon as it gets the FDA approval and they can move it out.

We don't have a lot of visibility into weeks four, five, and six. But we're hoping that that supply only increases. We then get it out, deploy it, use it right away. We're holding folks accountable to make sure anybody in Colorado that is a distribution partner uses everything they receive within 72 hours. We want that in people's arms protecting people as soon as possible.

RICK NEWMAN: So basically, you'll just take all you can get, and you'll get it to people as quickly as you can. You don't see kinks in the distribution system.

JARED POLIS: That's the long and the short of it. Of course, we optimize, meaning we want to save lives, protect the most vulnerable people over 65 before the general population. But the sooner we can get it out, end the pandemic, return to normalcy, save lives, the better.

RICK NEWMAN: How are your cities doing in terms of the revenue they need to keep cops on the payroll, firefighters, teachers? I mean, there's been some concern that there are going to have to be layoffs at this level because cities and states cannot run budget deficits the way Washington can, so they need to balance those budgets. Are you going to have trouble there with those payrolls?

JARED POLIS: And that's one of the stronger arguments for the state and local aid. States like Colorado can't borrow, can't deficit spend. This is the time for a stimulus that helps support our police, support our teachers and others. It looks like there is support for educators in there.

But yes, depending on the city in Colorado, just like across the country, many of them have decreased sales tax revenue, one of their major sources of revenue. And it's a very tough decision if there's not another federal round of assistance about what to cut.

RICK NEWMAN: I'm a skier, and ski season is starting, and that's an important industry in Colorado. Obviously, ski resorts are going to have to cut back a lot on capacity if they're even able to operate at all. How rough is this going to be on the ski industry there? Do you-- are you concerned you could actually lose a couple of ski areas?

JARED POLIS: Well, the snow is good. All of our ski resorts are open, and come on out and visit. We have great skiing, there's no real health risk on the slopes. But a lot of the experiences associated with skiing, if you're expecting to go out dining or go out to bars and clubs and, you know, live entertainment indoors, that's kind of what's affected by the virus.

But the outdoor skiing, boarding, snowshoeing, hiking, it's a great way to spend some time safely. And we've had a good ski season so far.

RICK NEWMAN: This must be an employment hit in the industry if you can't operate a lot of the ancillary businesses, where, you know, a lot of people work.

JARED POLIS: Yeah, I mean, the stores are all open, restaurants are all open, but they generally have less staff than they otherwise would because they're doing takeout, delivery, some indoor dining. There's some spacing restrictions, but they have some capacity indoors. So yeah, they're all open. But essentially, you know, many of them are having down years.

That's why the state stepped up with a stimulus. Effectively, restaurants have to collect a 2.9% sales tax. We, for four months, November, December, January, February, said restaurants can keep that sales tax they collect rather than give it to the state. And then there's a separate pot of money for direct aid to some of these businesses working with our municipalities and our counties to get it out, to help make sure that they can get through this difficult time and build back stronger when the pandemic is over.

RICK NEWMAN: And people can travel to Colorado from other states without restrictions?

JARED POLIS: Absolutely. And Denver International Airport has a higher percentage of domestic air travel than ever before. We have good safety protocols there. Obviously, air travel for anybody is a risk factor. It's a more risky activity than staying at home. But many people are doing it. We're doing it in the safest way possible. Others are driving here.

RICK NEWMAN: I want to ask you about President Trump's challenges to the election in several states, which, in some way, is still ongoing. Now, Colorado was not one of those hot spots, it didn't turn out to be one of the contested states. But it is a purple state. I mean, you've got a lot of Republicans there.

What's your feeling about this? Do you feel like the system was stressed and it worked, and therefore, everything is fine? Or do you feel like the system was stressed and maybe it revealed some weaknesses we need to fix in the future?

JARED POLIS: Well, everybody who runs for president, of course, has the legal right to address any grievances in the court. What I think so many of us, including myself, found so shocking about this is the lack of any cohesive legal arguments that match with the rhetoric of somehow an election being taken or stolen. And the tenacity of folks trying to deny electors for voting the way that the people of a state voted is counter to our very values as a Democratic Republic.

So I think it's really called that into question. I think it's important that both major parties support democracy, support the Constitution, support the Republic. Of course anybody can challenge through the courts to make sure that things are done fairly. But there's just been a big mismatch between the very weak and almost nonsensical so-called legal arguments and the type of rhetoric that the president has been using about what happened in the election.

RICK NEWMAN: Elections are administered at the state and the county level, that's your jurisdiction. Should there be some changes, or should we just condemn the, you know, type of behavior that seems to be anti-democratic and leave it at that?

JARED POLIS: No, states-- beyond states, our county clerks do a great job administering elections. Of course, there are and should continue to be federal guardrails around civil rights, around access. County clerks and states can administer elections, but they can't deny anybody who's eligible the right to vote. And, of course, we need to do more as a state, as a nation to make sure that people who are eligible to vote can vote and that any fraudulent vote is not counted and that anybody trying to do so is prosecuted.

RICK NEWMAN: Last thing I want to ask. You contracted coronavirus. You tested positive in November. Did you get sick? What was that experience like?

JARED POLIS: I had, fortunately, very mild symptoms, meaning I was just under the weather a little bit, trouble sleeping for a few days. My partner, Marlon, had worse symptoms. He had pretty bad headaches for several days, and then developed respiratory symptoms in day seven and eight and breathing trouble. The doctor advised-- our personal doctor advised him to go to the hospital.

He did for two nights. And with steroid treatment, the inflammation was reduced, and he's perfectly fine now too. But it's such a strange virus, as you know. I mean, some people get through it with minor symptoms, others are on death's doorstep three, four days into it. And there's a correlation with age. Far, far more dangerous for people in their 70's and 80's than people in their 20's and 30's.

But you even have perfectly healthy 35-year-olds that are in the hospital five days later. So this is what the nation is struggling with. We're so grateful that the vaccine is here. In the meantime, though, it'll take months until there's enough people vaccinated to make a difference. Wear a mask when you're around others, reduce those social interactions, and try to keep a distance from others.

RICK NEWMAN: Governor Jared Polis, governor of Colorado, thanks very much for joining us today.

JARED POLIS: Always a pleasure.