From Clean Energy To Restaurants, Here’s Where Colorado Lawmakers Plan To Spend A $700 Million State Stimulus

March 10, 2021
CLOSED-BAR-BUSINESS-COLFAX-DENVER-CORONAVIRUSCLOSED-BAR-BUSINESS-COLFAX-DENVER-CORONAVIRUSHart Van Denburg/CPR News
A pedestrian walks past the boarded-up windows and front door of the Satellite Bar on Colfax Avenue in Denver, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020.

Just as Congress passed a large federal stimulus package, a bipartisan group of Colorado lawmakers announced their own, smaller plan to boost the state’s economy.

A parade of top Democrats and Republicans — along with two business owners — heaped praise on one another and talked about the months ahead. They spoke surrounded by “Building Back Stronger” signs that reflected President Joe Biden’s national message.

“Colorado will be poised to build back faster, build back stronger,” Gov. Jared Polis said. “I’m proud of our Colorado leaders working in a bipartisan way to do that.” 

The proposal totals about $700 million in state spending. It’s small compared to the federal package, which will send about $6 billion to the state and local governments in Colorado.

The spending reflects a state government that wasn’t hurt as badly by the pandemic as lawmakers feared. Major sources of revenue like income and sales taxes weren’t as severely disrupted as first predicted.

“We did prepare for worse. We prepared for longer term disruptions to the supply chain, longer term disruptions to tourism and recreation, and greater devastation to the state budget,” Polis said.

Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert said the package hit some key Republican goals: roads and bridges, schools and jobs.

“It’s a beautiful Colorado day, and the future is bright,” he said. 

“There are a lot of things in this package that are going to help families in this state. And that’s why we’re here — because we care,” said a fellow GOP leader, House Minority Leader Hugh McKean.

State Rep. Daneya Esgar, the House Majority Leader for the Democrats, said that the package “focused especially on middle- and low-wage workers who haven’t shared equitably in our state's growth.” Democratic House Speaker Alec Garnett focused his remarks on support for restaurants and small businesses.

The money in the state stimulus plan represents a “one-time” windfall, Polis said. Meanwhile, budget writers and other state lawmakers are focused on restoring some of the $3.5 billion cut last year, especially for schools.

The money will be spent over 12 to 18 months, and the spending will depend on various bills passing through the state legislature.

“Colorado can’t recover economically unless we invest in the long-term health of our communities across Colorado, from the Western Slope to the Eastern Plains,” said Senate President Leroy Garcia, a Democrat.

Here are the spending plans outlined in the proposal.

Infrastructure

Shovel-ready projects: $170 million for road work including improvements to the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels on Interstate 70; highway bridges; wildlife corridors; and tourism corridors and scenic byways.

Housing: $60 million to $80 million to “transform downtown spaces and create more sustainable affordable housing in urban areas.” Another $8 million to $10 million would “incentivize” local governments to encourage affordable housing with policies such as reduced fees.

Broadband: $50 million to $75 million to expand broadband internet infrastructure.

Energy and climate: $30 million to $40 million for the state’s Clean Energy Fund, its loan program for residential energy upgrades and more; $2 million to $5 million to help local governments with clean energy projects; $3 million to $ million in grants for residential energy efficiency upgrades for people with low income.

Main Street: $30 million for safer and revitalized streets in central business areas, as proposed in a state bill.

Parks: $20 million to build, maintain and improve facilities at state parks, including the new Fishers Peak State Park.

Water: $10 million to $20 million for projects in the state’s water plan.

Small businesses

Restaurants: $40 million to $50 million to continue forgiving sales taxes for restaurants.

New jobs: $25 million in total for two different grant programs for businesses that create jobs, the Advanced Industries Accelerator Grant Program and the OEDIT Strategic Fund.

Business loans: $20 million to $30 million for Community Development Financial Institutions for loans to “historically underserved entrepreneurs for starting up new businesses to fill the needs created by business closures due to COVID-19 and promote an equitable recovery.”

Events and conferences: $10 million to “incentivize and retain” event organizers to do business in Colorado through a 10 percent “credit against the hard costs of hosting a meeting or event” this year.

Small businesses: Up to $15 million for one-time grants to businesses with fewer than 25 employees, with an emphasis on programs that did not qualify for the Paycheck Protection Program, along with small restaurants and those owned by women, people of color and veterans.

Arts and culture: Up to $5 million for arts and culture organizations, which have been hurt by public health measures.

Mid-growth companies: Up to $3 million to encourage the growth of companies that are leaving the start-up stage or are “on the verge” of rapid growth, with a focus on historically underserved entrepreneurs.

Workforce

Training: 

  • Up to $25 million for local workforce boards to create training and support programs for workers. 
  • Up to $15 million would go to scholarships for people who haven’t completed a college degree, along with support for high-demand programs at community colleges. 
  • Up to $4 million would go to training and education for people receiving food benefits.
  • Up to $3 million would go to training and business loans for formerly incarcerated people.

Educators: $3.4 million to give teachers two years of relief from licensure fees.

Energy jobs: Up to $5 million to help people get jobs in the energy sector.

Families and individuals

Energy transition: $10 million to $15 million for communities to create new job opportunities in the transition away from coal energy. This includes building new infrastructure and funding training programs. Another $3 million to $5 million would go to renewable energy and efficiency for the agriculture sector.

School construction: $10 million for the Building Excellent Schools Today program.

Mental health in schools: $8 million to $9 million to create a statewide program of voluntary mental health screenings and three telehealth visits for students older than 12.

Child care: $5 million to $10 million to support the expansion of child care businesses.

Tutoring and summer school: $5 million to $10 million for educational opportunities to make up for time lost during the pandemic.

Unemployment: $1 million to $2 million for a hotline that will connect unemployed people to health services and other programs.

Rural Colorado

Agriculture: $20 million to $35 million in grants for rural agricultural infrastructure, including processing plants, storage and distribution, for both traditional crops and hemp. Another $2 million to $3 million would go to the Colorado Proud program to market agricultural products.

Fire recovery: $10 million to $25 million to restore forests and protect communities from fires.

Water: $10 million to to $25 million to protect and preserve the watersheds around Colorado rivers. Another $2 million to $5 million would help farmers and ranchers deal with drought.

Events: $7 million to $10 million for the National Western Stock Show, the Colorado State Fair & Rodeo and other events.

Business grants: $3 million to $8 million for Rural Economic Development Initiative grants and $3 million for Rural Jump Start business grants.

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