Colorado lawmakers unveil $700 million stimulus package aimed at pressing needs

Polis stimulus package
Posted at 2:57 PM, Mar 10, 2021

DENVER – Democratic and Republican legislative leadership joined Gov. Jared Polis Wednesday to unveil a $700 million “stimulus package” of proposals they hope to pass in bills this session they say constitutes investments in infrastructure, agriculture and small businesses and helps shore up some of the cuts made to last year’s budget.

Among the proposals are roughly $170 million in “shovel-ready projects,” the officials said, which involve one-time spending primarily on infrastructure projects, such as improvements to the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels, more wildlife mitigation corridors, I-70 bridge work in Denver and more.

The other proposals include items the lawmakers said would be both short- and long-term investments in the state as it works to recover from the pandemic and recession, including broadband infrastructure expansion, millions in small business, housing and community proposals, money for schools and mental health, proposals to help mitigate Colorado’s drought and wildfire seasons, and investments in the workforce and tourism.

The package was unveiled shortly after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which President Joe Biden is expected to sign later this week, which will also include separate money the state can use for some of its most pressing pandemic-related issues.

Colorado lawmakers, governor announce new $700M stimulus program

But the group of lawmakers made clear these are two separate pools of money. The up-to-$700 million package comes on the heels of a $300 million package the legislature passed during a December special session aimed at COVID-19 relief.

The total of about $1 billion in state money the lawmakers are working with between those two packages is aimed at shoring up some of the more-than $3 billion in cuts lawmakers made last year at the beginning of the pandemic. Polis had asked for $1.3 billion in spending in his budget proposal in early November.

“As we look to build our economy and our state even stronger than before the pandemic, we also have an opportunity to reimagine Colorado’s future and truly create a Colorado for all,” Polis said in a statement Wednesday. “I want to thank the legislature for their collaborative work on this important package of legislation. These one-time, strategic investments will help Coloradans get back to work and not only make important investments in our infrastructure and workforce today, but help keep us moving forward together for years to come.”

The lawmakers said Wednesday that the $700 million in this proposal and $300 million from the special session package all come as a result of work by the Joint Budget Committee last year to prepare for the pandemic and from tax revenues that were higher than expected over the past several months.

“While the pandemic has been devastating … we did prepare for the worst,” Polis said at the news conference in which the officials made the announcement. “Thankfully, those worst-case scenarios didn’t come to pass, and so we have one-time, carry-forward funds.”

Some of the major facets of the proposal include:

  • $10-15 million in the Energize Colorado Gap Fund
  • $40-50 million in restaurant sales tax relief
  • $10 million to incentivize events and conferences remaining in or coming to Colorado
  • $20-30 million for the Colorado Startup Loan Fund
  • $30 million in “Main Street” revitalization efforts
  • $60-80 million in matching funds for affordable housing and the transformation of downtown community spaces
  • $20 million in increasing state parks access
  • $50-75 million to expand broadband infrastructure
  • $10-20 million to complete State Water Plan projects
  • $30-40 million in clean energy programs
  • $10-15 million to allow for local governments to rent or purchase hotels and motels for people experiencing homelessness
  • $5-10 million in tutoring and summer school programs
  • $8-9 million for expanded mental health screenings in schools
  • $10-25 million in wildfire recovery and risk mitigation projects
  • $10-25 million toward watershed restoration grants
  • $10-15 million to work with local governments to transition jobs away from coal
  • $20-35 million to invest in agricultural supply chains
  • $2-5 million in drought response funding
  • $15-25 million in two-year grants for workforce centers and training awards

House Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver, said all of the money would move forward in individual bills. The House and Senate Republican leaders both pledged to work together with Democrats as long as the bills address their three main priorities: getting people back to work, students back in schools, and addressing road and bridge infrastructure needs.

House Minority Leader Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, gave his word to Garnett that when there are bills to agree upon, Republicans will “come together and support those in a bipartisan way.”

Colorado lawmakers unveil $700 million stimulus package aimed at pressing needs

“And when there are things that are outside of that rubric that we have, we will heartily encourage those dollars to go to those families so that when they sit down at the kitchen table and they say, ‘We need a dollar raise this year so we can keep paying the bills,’ we’ve done everything that we can to help,” McKean said.

Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, said he believed all of the proposals will support local businesses either directly or indirectly and said the direct financial support would help Coloradans “weather the current storm” and the days to follow.

Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, who is a member of the Joint Budget Committee, said that some of the gap between the $1 million and the $1.3 billion proposed by the governor would go toward building out reserves for the future for the purposes of having a “sustainable, long-term budget.”

Garnett said he believed some of the bills would start moving in the coming days and weeks to get the money out the door as quickly as possible.

“The legislature is doing a lot of great work this year, but this is the main event,” Garnett said. “This is what people expect us to be doing in a bipartisan way.”