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Politics and Government

Gov. Jared Polis wanted quick action on his $1.3 billion stimulus plan. Colorado lawmakers want more time.

Legislative budget writers decided that the governor’s measures needed more consideration and debate and didn’t fit the definition for mid-year spending adjustments

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks to reporters at the governor's mansion in downtown Denver on July 9, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Three months ago, Gov. Jared Polis put forward a $1.3 billion stimulus plan and asked Colorado lawmakers to fast-track the measures. 

On Thursday, the General Assembly said not so fast.

Instead of inserting the governor’s November spending requests into a supplemental budget package being drafted now, the proposals will move ahead in separate legislation for introduction after lawmakers resume their session Feb. 16.

The Democratic governor and legislative leaders issued a joint statement touting the shared agenda to boost the state’s economy, but the delay represents an admonishment of Polis by lawmakers. The governor’s effort to slip new policies and programs into budget amendments is common practice in Congress, where Polis served for a decade, but violates the norm in Colorado, where such moves generally require standalone legislation and debate.

State Sen. Dominick Moreno, the chief legislative budget writer and a Democrat from Commerce City, said Thursday that the stimulus proposals “will move through a different process that allows for more involvement from our legislative colleagues.” 

His remark came as the Joint Budget Committee deferred administration requests for additional spending in the current 2020-21 fiscal year spending plan. Polis administration officials downplayed any disagreement on the approach and suggested that the separate stimulus legislation will move forward as quickly as possible.

Democratic lawmakers and the governor appear to agree on the need for a stimulus and expect to use one-time money that came into state coffers above prior tax revenue projections. But the details of the legislation remains unresolved.

In December, Polis called lawmakers into a special session to address a portion of his stimulus plan and lawmakers approved about $300 million in spending to provide tax breaks for hard-hit businesses, money for to pay housing and rental bills and stimulus checks to lower income earners who are unemployed.

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The action left $1 billion on the governor’s far-ranging stimulus wish-list, which includes everything from infrastructure spending to body cameras for police officers. He pledged to lawmakers that it would create 10,000 to 15,000 jobs and boost the state’s gross domestic product by 11% over existing projections. The supplemental, midyear budget adjustments expected to be approved in February may include more money for Polis’ request, but only if it meets criteria that the spending is necessitated by unforeseen circumstances or increases in demand for services.

The other items in the governor’s stimulus plan now must wait for separate legislation. His ideas include $160 million for high-speed internet investments; $220 million in public works projects such as road construction; $140 million to train workers in new skills; $78 million for wildfire response; and $38 million to promote social equity and health.

Sen. Chris Hansen, a Denver Democrat and budget writer, said the Joint Budget Committee told the governor’s office that supplementals were not the right route for Polis’ stimulus plans.

“I think there’s broad support across the legislature, in the Democratic caucuses, to do stimulus funding,” Hansen said. “I think what we were running into, just procedurally, (is) it wasn’t a good fit for the supplemental process.” 

Hansen said that sending the proposals to the full legislature when it reconvenes would not slow the process of getting the stimulus out to Coloradans. He also thinks the move would allow the legislature to analyze the actions of the new Democratic-controlled Congress and White House and analyze the effects of the aid package passed during the special session in December.

Rep. Kim Ransom, a Douglas County Republican who also sits on the budget committee, agrees that the supplemental process was the wrong route for Polis’ stimulus plans.

“Supplementals should be to true up last year’s budget,” she said.

Rising Sun