DENVER, Colorado — Governor Jared Polis welcomed top Democrats and Republicans from the State Legislature to his official residence Wednesday to announce a new $700 million economic stimulus plan.
The Colorado Recovery Plan aims to boost the state economy by targeting spending in five main areas: strengthening small businesses, revitalizing infrastructure, supporting families, investing in rural communities, and developing the workforce.
"There's been great ideas from Republicans, from Democrats, from the business community, from mayors from across the state," Mr. Polis said during the news conference.
"Not every idea could fit of course."
The estimated spending on relief programs for small businesses ranges between $110 and $138 million. Among the proposals, a continuation of the Energize Colorado Gap Fund.
The program was established by the legislature during last year's special session and provides one-time grant payments to small businesses with less than 25 employees. Priority is given to applicants from rural areas, those who did not qualify for the federal Paycheck Protection Program, and businesses owned by women, minorities, and veterans.
"You have to seek these opportunities and go through the process to apply, but they are absolutely there to help support us," said Ann Koerner, owner of Stack Subs.
She and her husband started the small eatery in 2012 after leaving careers in the tech industry. She said the most difficult period during the past 12 months came in late fall and winter when level red COVID restrictions were in place. They were awarded a timely $15,000 grant from Energize Colorado Gap Fund in December.
"Those are dark cold months, very quiet in the shop, and you're just not sure if you're going to make it," Koerner said.
In addition to the grant program, lawmakers are also looking to continue their sales tax relief program for bars and restaurants. They also plan to create incentives for events and conferences by offering a 10 percent credit against the hard costs of hosting a large gathering. Those costs can include hotel rooms, food and beverage service, and audiovisual expenses.
Funding for the $700 million in legislation comes from savings the state realized when it cut the budget last year bracing for the worst.
"Last year, we really were conservative when we balanced our budgets and we made a lot of really drastic cuts to prepare for the worst," said House Majority Leader Rep. Daneya Esgar of Pueblo, who was chair of the Joint Budget Committee during the previous session.
"Revenues came in a bit higher than we expected them to."
Using their best revenue forecasts at the time, the legislature cut approximately $3 billion from the 2020 state budget. Actual 2020 revenues ended up being about $1 billion higher than expected.
State Senator Chris Holbert of Douglas County explained that roughly $300 million of that savings was already spent at the end of the last session creating the stimulus programs that are getting additional funding in 2021.
"We have to allocate those dollars because the requirement is that the budget be balanced," Holbert said. "We might think about TABOR refunds, we're not hitting the TABOR trigger, we're talking about going down, not up, it's just less down than we thought it would be."
The largest share of the stimulus money, $377 -$445 million, will be spent on infrastructure projects. An estimated $170 million is proposed for "shovel-ready" projects like safety improvements to the Eisenhower & Johnson Tunnels on Interstate 70.
Another $60 to $80 million is proposed for innovative housing and community revitalization projects.
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