In the coming weeks and months, legislators in the State Capitol will dole out $800 million in state stimulus spending (not to be confused with federal stimulus dollars). While economic projections and data show a quick recovery, there are still tens of thousands of business owners and employees with uncertain futures, students who have fallen behind, and miles of road still needing repair, enhancement, and expansion.
That’s why, with these funds, our focus is simple: jobs, students, roads & bridges.
Our first priority is to get Colorado back to work. Even with adjustment, Colorado’s unemployment rate is dismal in comparison to states that border ours. While Utah’s rate sits at 3.0 percent, Nebraska at 3.1 percent, Kansas at 3.2 percent, Wyoming at 5.3 percent, Colorado’s sits at 6.6 percent. The only bordering state to us with a higher rate is New Mexico at 8.4 percent. According to a recent WalletHub analysis, Colorado’s economy ranks 43rd (including Washington D.C.) in regards to how much we’ve “bounced back.”
As government regulations continue to restrict business operations, more entrepreneurs are at the same crossroad: take on more debt or close their doors. Putting funds where they directly impact an employer’s ability to keep employees on payroll and keep the doors open is essential to speeding up our recovery and doing right by those businesses that government restrictions have harmed. Small businesses have borne a major portion of the economic burden of COVID-19 and government shutdowns, which is why we’ll be focused on economic stimulus that specifically targets existing small businesses that need our help right now.
Our second priority is to get students back to school and caught up on their studies. As our colleague, Senator Rob Woodward, highlighted in his recent Colorado Politics opinion piece, Democrats in the legislature have been unwilling to buck their special interests and put a focus on students. The fallout from missing a year of in-person learning for an entire generation is still not fully realized, but with public education already faltering in ensuring our students were prepared pre-COVID-19, it isn’t hard to imagine just how tough it’ll be to catch our students up.
Students are craving to get back to their familiar learning and social environments, and while the vast majority of our teachers are now vaccinated, there are still a handful of districts in Colorado that have not re-opened for in-class education. Republicans will look to utilize stimulus dollars however we can to think outside the box and provide opportunities for our students to get back on track as soon as possible. One potential solution is to consider offering a “summer semester,” allowing students and teachers the opportunity to get caught up before the next school year begins.
Roads & Bridges
Our third priority is making a large investment in our roads and bridges. Beyond the $800 million in state stimulus funds, we are also looking at over $4 billion in federal stimulus funds coming shortly and possibly billions more from the federal government depending on the outcome of the transportation infrastructure bill in Congress.
We will soon be in a position to make the largest investment in our state’s roads and bridges that we’ve seen in generation. Unfortunately, Democrats are looking to instead impose new fees on Coloradans to put money into transportation – an unnecessary burden for our low- and middle-income families. We don’t need a gas fee, we don’t need a fee on Uber and Lyft, we don’t need a fee on Doordash and FedEx.
Our state has the funds to make this happen, it just requires us to properly prioritize.
While most of us reduced our time on the road last year, our transportation needs have continued to grow and the backlog of projects with the Department of Transportation hasn’t gotten smaller. Putting stimulus money into Colorado’s transportation infrastructure will create jobs across the state, accelerate the completion of ongoing projects, and allow us to start long-overdue projects. We can do this while also requiring greater transparency and accountability from the Department of Transportation.
There are many other areas we are eager to work on as well, including ensuring that mental health services are fully funded. We will also look to restoring funding to programs that were cut last year, ensuring a healthy reserve, and addressing the depleted unemployment trust fund. If the last year has taught us anything, it’s to be cautious with how the state spends money. While Colorado has enjoyed years of revenue growth, we never know when unforeseen circumstances may knock us back into reality.
Senate Republicans will work to get Coloradans back to work, students back in school, and our road and bridge projects funded so that we can quickly get back to normal.
This guest column was written by Sen. Chris Holbert, who represents Douglas County, and Sen. Bob Rankin, who represents northwestern Colorado.