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Colorado stimulus oversight begins

DENVER, Colorado ” As Colorado prepares to hand out more than $2 billion in stimulus money from Washington on everything from road repairs to food stamps, a group of state officials and business executives is mapping out a plan to make sure every cent is spent wisely.

The 12-member board starts work Thursday to monitor how Colorado spends its share of the $787 billion purse set up by Congress.

Colorado is one of a handful of states where governors can spend federal dollars without oversight from the state legislature, assuming the money doesn’t require a state match or special oversight. That means the bulk of stimulus money will be handed out by Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter.

Citing the need for accountability, Ritter set up the panel to oversee spending, which could start within days.

“Obviously we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us,” said Sandy Gutierrez, a board member and president of the Pueblo Latin Chamber of Commerce.

The task is dizzying. Colorado is getting some $2.85 billion in direct assistance, according to an analysis by the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, a public policy think tank in Denver.

The sum includes $752 million to help Colorado pay the bills and cover the state budget deficit without draconian cuts such as laying off teachers or reducing Medicaid benefits.

The law sends Colorado $404 million for highway and bridge repair and construction. The state also is due almost $100 million to make homes more energy efficient. Millions more are coming for job training and extended unemployment benefits as the state hit a five-year unemployment high of 6.1 percent in December.

All that money is desperately needed by governments coping with plummeting tax revenues as consumer spending and home sales bottom out. But the magnitude of the stimulus means a heavy burden for state officials who need to reassure a jittery public that the money will be wisely spent.

“It’s a great thing, but we’re going to be following it pretty closely,” said Kathy White, a project director for the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute who is not a member of Ritter’s oversight board. “It’s a big job implementing all this.”

It’s unclear how the oversight board will work or how often it will meet. Details will likely be hashed out at a Thursday meeting at the office of Don Elliman, Colorado’s economic development director. Elliman was tapped by Ritter to lead the board, which includes two state lawmakers, business leaders from around the state and economic development experts.

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On the Net:

About Ritter’s board: http://www.colorado.gov/recovery

Colorado stimulus overview: http://www.cclponline.org/pubfiles/2009-2-17Stimulus.pdf


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