It’s a wrap | Western Colorado
The billions of dollars the state had to deal with the pandemic and what it has done to the economy has given Democrats who have a majority in the Colorado legislature an opportunity to push their agenda forward when of the 2021 session.
All that money helped lawmakers look good when they reinstated millions of dollars in cuts the legislature was forced to make at the start of the 2020 session due to what could become the pandemic economy, an economy. which did not turn out as bad as feared.
But the Democrats’ agenda was further helped when the state also received $ 1.2 billion from one of the first COVID-19 relief bills passed by Congress last year, and $ 3.8 billion additional dollars to a similar extent this year.
All that money allowed Democrats to spend a lot of money on their bills, and not just an effort to help Coloradians recover from the pandemic and put the state’s economy in a much better position, according to legislative republicans.
It also had the side effect of encouraging Democrats to do whatever they wanted, including passing a number of pet bills that had nothing to do with improving anymore. economy of the state, such as offering collective bargaining rights to agricultural workers, tackling climate change issues, increasing state bureaucracy, or imposing new transportation fees to raise billions of dollars that Not all will go asphalt or concrete, GOP lawmakers have said.
“It’s an interesting political calculation that Democrats are making,” Senator Paul Lundeen said of R-Monument. “They say, ‘Look at all that money, shiny object, shiny object.’ Meanwhile, they ignore voters. There is this political calculation if we throw enough money at the voters, and it doesn’t cost us anything in that case because it comes from the federal government.
With all that money, the legislature that ended the 2021 session on Tuesday was able to restore millions of dollars in cuts to kindergarten to grade 12 and higher education, spending tons of money on real life projects. roads and bridges and create generous new grant programs designed to help small businesses and their workers get back on track.
It also allowed them to approve several tax cuts, albeit minor for businesses and homeowners, improve child tax credits for working parents, and lower vehicle registration fees.
As a result, it was easier for Democrats to pass other ambitious laws, such as massive new fees to fund transportation, a demanding mandate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturers, utilities and oil and gas companies, forcing insurance companies to offer cheaper health care. plans and give agricultural workers the right to organize for better pay and better working conditions.
“We have more money than we ever dreamed of having, yet they are pushing Senate Bill 260 through to get people to pay more for things like Uber, Lyft, Doordash and gas.” said Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert R-Parker.
“So moving forward, even more money, $ 3 billion in government revenue that we didn’t think we had, then $ 3.8 billion federal, and now more expense revenue.” , added Holbert. “Yes, I believe that all of this helped fund pet projects that they probably never thought they could ever get funded, and they did.”
While Senate Republicans may have worked more collaboratively with controlling Democrats in their chamber, this has not always been the case in the House.
There, some Republican lawmakers did what they could to block Democratic efforts, but ultimately blamed their own leadership, calling for a vote of no confidence against parliamentary minority leader Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, the last day of the session.
A handful of Republicans criticized McKean for not fighting enough against the Democrats, saying he was too complacent to get along. Ultimately, McKean won that 15-8 vote.
Holbert came to McKean’s defense, saying House GOP lawmakers were unaware of all the behind-the-scenes work McKean has done to help his caucus, and Senate Republicans, temper some of this that the Democrats did.
While that’s the way Republican leaders in the Legislature view it, Democrats have said they’re just trying to do their job by tackling the state’s toughest problems in the short and long. term.
“For the most part, we’re trying to solve the big problems the state is facing,” said Speaker of the House Alec Garnett, D-Denver. “The issues that remain are some of the biggest and most difficult, and the fact that we were able to untie many of those knots and get across the finish line is a testament to where we ended up. We were balancing build stronger, bringing relief and at the same time trying to solve these big problems that were out there. “
Governor Jared Polis, a Democrat, praised these efforts, saying all lawmakers, not just Democrats, are very careful about how they spend the money and how they deal with other, equally controversial issues. be they for some on the other side of the political corridor.
He said those lawmakers, sometimes with help from both sides of the political divide inside and outside Capitol Hill, helped get the legislature where Democrats wanted to go.
Senate Majority Leader Stephen Fenberg, D-Boulder, said politics always play a role in how people view a legislative session, but quickly added that Coloradians shouldn’t lose sight of the goals. long term they were trying to achieve, such as lowering the cost of health care, providing sustainable finance for transport, tackling climate change and its impact on the state, while addressing other pressing issues that arose during the session, such as six gun control bills that followed the Boulder shooting that left 10 people dead.
Although Republicans have repeatedly said that the legislature should have used all that state and federal money to fund these concerns rather than impose new fees, Fenberg countered that their idea only solves these problems. with one-time money and ignores what happens when that money runs out of.
“Some of our naysayers are saying, ‘Well we’ve got all this federal money, why don’t we just use it,’” Fenberg said. “This money is short term. It will soon disappear. What we really need to do is be leaders and think about long term structural changes. “
The fee increases that the Legislature approved, whether for every gallon of gasoline purchased by the Coloradans or in the plastic bags they use at the supermarket, are actually not that onerous and will not have to do with it. ‘impact on anyone for a few years, he said.
“The reality is that any increase in fees, if you look at one of the bills that includes a fee, really won’t affect the average consumer for many years,” Fenberg said. “There’s a reason some people want the fees to be the narrative of this session, but at the end of the day, and it’s not just political talk, we need to invest in these issues that we have faced for a long time. . time.”
Yet with all the extra money lawmakers had, they were able to pass many bills to put that money to good use, like grants to help small businesses, restaurants, and farms recover from their hardships. the economic crisis, and to help employees get back to work with better health care, wages and childcare, including helping displaced coal workers find new careers, said the Democrats.
Some Republicans have also jumped on the bandwagon, including Western Slope lawmakers like Rep. Perry Will, R-New Castle, and Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale. The two joined Democrats as prominent as Fenberg and House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar of Pueblo to help divert additional funds where they believed it would do their constituents the most good.
Will and Rankin, whose districts have many displaced coal workers, joined them on Bill 1290 to add $ 15 million to the just transition office’s relatively new program and direct assistance to transition workers from the coal from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
The main mission of the Just Transition Office is to provide employment and training programs for coal workers who have already lost their jobs or are expected to lose them soon, while the Aid Program is a new program aimed at providing direct financial assistance to coal workers and their families. as their life transition progresses.
Other bills that split this money went to programs like start-up loans to potential entrepreneurs, community revitalization, worker retraining, affordable housing, mental health treatment, management. forest fires, suicide prevention, broadband deployment, public safety, environmental threats, and behavioral and mental health programs.
But lawmakers haven’t spent all the money. About $ 1 billion is still available, but not yet allocated.
Over the coming weeks and months, and ahead of next year’s session, lawmakers will meet with several stakeholders, private interest groups, experts and everyday people to discuss a variety of topics in order to to decide what to do with the rest, especially on things that lawmakers don’t have. Thought over.
In total, lawmakers considered 623 bills, of which 502 were approved. Of those that have reached the governor’s office, 235 have already been signed or allowed to become law without his signature, while one has been vetoed. Now that the legislature is out of session, Polis has one month to process the 266 bills remaining on his desk.