Roberts: Building Colorado back stronger
Colorado is coming back. Just a few short weeks ago, we at the legislature passed Colorado’s annual and balanced state budget. The $34.1 billion balanced state budget and the accompanying $800 million economic stimulus package will accelerate Colorado’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not only is our budget completely restored to pre-pandemic levels, including spending on vital state resources like public education, but the stimulus package will help impacted industries bounce back from the recession.
Education, the environment, small business, housing, and human services — the $800 million stimulus package will benefit many, with carve outs to aid the most vulnerable and most affected.
Students and their teachers will benefit from grants that will update public school infrastructure and support child care businesses by improving recruitment and increasing compensation for educators. Workers impacted by the pandemic can now apply for scholarships to complete their higher education or reskill and upskill to secure new jobs. The stimulus will improve Colorado’s standard of education, which is consistently one of the worst ranked in the country.
We are investing in Colorado’s environment and setting aside over $80 million in funding to preserve our natural resources and transition to renewable energy. $40 million will help support clean energy and electric vehicles, $20 million will be used to protect Colorado’s water, $15 million will protect our watersheds from the impacts of forest-fires, $5 million will be used to develop clean and renewable energy infrastructure, and $3 million will be dedicated to weatherizing low-income households.
Many vital industry sectors, like agriculture, restaurants, arts, entertainment, and recreation, will receive substantial stimulus. Colorado’s small businesses will benefit from the Rural Jump-Start Zone grant program, which will provide up to $20,000 to new businesses established in rural Colorado and an additional $2,500 for every new employee hired —the grants double if the business is opening in a coal transition community.
I would like to highlight one stimulus bill in particular, HB21-1263, the Meeting and Events Incentive Program, which I am sponsoring. HB21-1263 will offer events across Colorado a rebate to cover the hard costs of hosting events.
In our mountain towns, which heavily rely on the tourism and travel economies, bringing back events and encouraging event planning companies to book in Colorado will be a great boon not only for the event venues and vendors but for local restaurants, shops, and hotels who will benefit from the patronage of visitors. The bill has bipartisan support, has already passed the House, and I can’t wait to see an influx of fantastic events — weddings, conferences, festivals, and much more — to the mountain towns we call home.
Lastly, the state is passing several bills that will allocate stimulus to support those struggling with mental health and housing. $9 million will be used to provide any Coloradan 18 or younger with free mental health screening and three free appointments with a licensed therapist — this measure is designed to assist students in their transition back to in-person learning, which will likely be stressful and challenging. $28 million, split into two separate measures, will provide rental assistance, support for the homeless, and promote affordable housing.
In tandem with the state stimulus, this year’s state budget will be an essential tool in Colorado’s recovery from the coronavirus crisis. The budget will set aside millions of dollars for equity-related initiatives and reverse budget cuts made last year in response to the pandemic — including an expansion to many of the state’s most pressing needs — which will amount to a total of $3.8 billion dollars in additional state spending compared to last year.
The new budget will also set aside $1.75 billion for future economic downturns, $20 million to support people with mental health challenges, increase public sector employee wages by 3%, and significantly increase funding for schools, which will require additional assistance to transition back to in-person classes and to help students catch up who have fallen behind in the previous year. These are only a few notable initiatives the state government will be taking on through the budget.
After the fraught, difficult year we have had, the state’s stimulus and budget efforts promise to rebuild our state back stronger. While there will still be more work to do and much effort needed to ensure that our recovery is equitable and touches all corners of our state, we should be optimistic. Relief is on the way. While the pandemic isn’t over, the worst is behind us, and with the help of the legislature, the future is growing brighter.