The “Build Back Stronger” Colorado tour made a virtual stop in Colorado Springs to gather community input on how the state should spend approximately $4 billion from the American Rescue Plan. On April 5 Gov. Jared Polis; State Treasurer Dave Young; Sen. Pete Lee, D-SD11; Sen. Paul Lundeen, R-SD9; and Rep. Tony Exum, D-HD17, took part in a Zoom call with southern Colorado community members as part of an ongoing listening tour.
“We can’t wait to hear your ideas about how the state can wisely invest this once in a lifetime, historic opportunity we have,” said Polis. “The state is receiving about $27 billion for individuals, local government, state [government], higher ed, K-12. The state piece is about $4 billion and can be leveraged with some of the local piece. This is a tremendous opportunity for one-time, transformative investment — stimulus, putting people back to work, helping those in need, building and transforming an even better Colorado.”
The American Rescue Plan, a comprehensive package of stimulus funds, was signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11. While the total stimulus package coming to Colorado equals $27 billion, that includes the direct stimulus payments already paid to Colorado residents through individual checks and to businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program.
“We’ve got funds flowing into the state through three different ways,” explained Luke Teater, deputy director of the Governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting. “Some of it is going directly to households and businesses from the federal government, and doesn’t touch the state budget or any state programs at all. For example, the stimulus checks that went out to most people or the PPP. There’s also direct funding to specific state programs. For example, there’s a lot of housing assistance funds going through [Department of Local Affairs], and then there’s some relatively flexible aid to state and local governments, about $3.9 billion coming to the state government and about $2.3 billion going to local governments.”
Monday’s discussion focused on how to best allocate the $3.9 billion. “I view everything we do in the Treasurer’s Office through the lens of economic justice, and this repair and rebuilding is an opportunity to continue to focus on the needs of all Coloradans,” Young said. “Over the past 12 months we’ve been working to find innovative solutions to the struggles Coloradans are facing every day. I’ve spoken to many of you, from business owners to health care workers to teachers and many, many other professionals and working people in the state. While we’re united in our need for renewed economic stability, the individual needs of people around the state do vary. That’s why it’s crucial that we — as we develop these programs and allocate funds — center these decisions based on what we hear from you. With stimulus dollars coming in from the American Rescue Plan, we have the opportunity to move forward out of two crises: the health crisis, and the economic crisis brought on by COVID-19.”
The influx of nearly $4 billion into the state’s budget is no small sum, amounting to almost 30 percent of fiscal year 2020’s General Fund spending. “We have a few main goals that we’re looking at as we try to spend this money,” said Teater. “Obviously we want to support the economy, providing stimulus to make sure we recover fully and completely as the pandemic gets behind us this year. We want to take advantage of the opportunity to make transformative investments that can put us in a better position five or 10 years from now. We want to provide relief to people who were hardest hit by the pandemic, especially in areas where there may have been gaps in the direct federal funding, or where they might not have benefited as much from the recent federal relief bills.”
Teater was quick to note that funds should be used thoughtfully. “Any spending we do from this package we want to be one-time spending,” he said. “That’s so that we can avoid ongoing costs that we can’t afford. We don’t want to use our one-time funds to pay for an ongoing commitment.”
The kinds of one-time spending projects that could benefit from the American Rescue Plan include improvements and upgrades to infrastructure, education, transportation and other public services. “We could look at supporting small businesses through loans and technical support programs,” said Teater. “Another option would be to support rural hospitals, helping them to make the one-time investments they need to expand their service offerings and become more affordable. We could help align education with the parts of the workforce where we still need workers, help pay for the cost of Coloradans pursuing CTE [Career and Technical Education] credentials. Or we could make significant climate equity building investments.”
Participants were placed in virtual breakout rooms to share ideas and funding needs with elected officials. Those ideas — which ran the gamut from affordable housing and broadband infrastructure to sustainable transportation, energy and water, to a serious discussion of Front Range rail — will be compiled in a comprehensive report for the governor.
“I heard some extraordinary, visionary ideas which could move us to the next level,” said Lee. “This is one-time money in some cases, but it’s also long-term investment money. What I kept hearing over and over is the best long-term investment we can make in Colorado is in education, education, education. K-12 education, higher education, community college, transitional education, vocational education to enable people to keep moving forward. It is disgraceful to be 48th or 50th in the nation in our investment in education. I don’t think we heard enough about the homeless sleeping on the street. We need to take that issue on full-time and big time. We’ve got money coming into the state, that’s a human crisis that needs addressing.”