After facing pushback from Republican lawmakers and some local elected officials for how he distributed the first round of federal COVID relief money last spring, Gov. Jared Polis is taking a different approach for this latest federal package.
On Monday Polis and lawmakers from both political parties announced a statewide listening tour to get feedback from a broad section of Coloradans on how to spend the nearly $4 billion Colorado is expecting from the federal government.
"We don’t want to pre-judge anything,” said Polis while announcing the tour at a press conference at the state capitol. “We want to hear people’s ideas."
The listening tour will hold both in-person and virtual stops in several different regions of the state, kicking off in southern Colorado. It will include local elected officials as well as leaders from the Black and Latino communities and various industries, from tourism to hospitality.
“Colorado is one of the most regionally diverse states in the country and making sure that we take the time to hear from our local leaders on where these dollars should go is time well spent,” said Democratic Speaker of the House Alec Garnett.
The American Rescue Plan will provide a huge influx of dollars to the state and local governments and lawmakers said they are well aware of what a unique opportunity this is.
In addition to this federal money, Colorado has money left over from last year’s budget which lawmakers want to use for a $700 million state stimulus package. And because high-income earners in Colorado have been largely unaffected by the pandemic, this year’s budget is doing better than expected and lawmakers may have billions extra to decide what to do with.
Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert said he welcomed the idea of thinking strategically — and involving the public — on how to spend the federal money.
“This is an exciting opportunity to expand that discussion beyond just legislators and the governor,” said Holbert. “So often what we do is just run bills and see if they pass or not.”
How and when that money will get to Colorado isn’t settled though. It’s still not clear whether states will receive their money all at once or in two separate allotments.
“The other piece is obviously, how can you use the dollars,” said Democratic state Sen. Dominick Moreno, the chair of the Joint Budget Committee. He said he’s hopeful that the federal guidance won’t put too many limits on what’s allowed. “The actual language in the federal bill is rather permissive. It is pretty broad, pretty open-ended, and revenue loss is specifically called out as one of the permitted uses.”
Members in both parties have listed infrastructure and education as top priorities.