Polis, officials want to hear from Pueblo on how to best spend COVID stimulus money
Community leaders, department heads and business stakeholders from Pueblo and Southern Colorado gave input on how Colorado should spend the billions of COVID-19 relief dollars it will soon receive during the first pit stop of Gov. Jared Polis’ "Build Back Stronger" listening tour Sunday afternoon.
The suggestions weren’t surprising for those who have paid attention to local priorities over recent years: infrastructure projects, transportation solutions, broadband access and affordable housing options.
The listening tour’s purpose is to hear directly from citizens about how the state can most effectively allocate money from the recently-passed American Rescue Plan.
“I view everything we do in the treasurer’s office through the lens of economic justice," State Treasurer Dave Young said in opening remarks. "This repair and rebuilding is an opportunity to continue to focus on the needs of all Coloradans."
Colorado will receive approximately $27 billion from the plan, a figure that includes preliminary estimates of $6.7 billion in individual stimulus checks, $2.6 billion for unemployment benefits and $2 billion in the child tax benefit expansion championed by Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado. The city of Pueblo is expecting about $37 million from the stimulus.
Those funds, in addition to $14 billion from December’s H.R. 133 appropriations bill, constitute a jolt worth nearly 10% of the state’s gross domestic product into the economy.
It’s an opportunity to not only recover from the economic decline caused by the pandemic, but also lay the foundation for long-term benefits. State leaders want to use this one-time spending opportunity to invest in projects that will go beyond lifting people out of unemployment and ensuring businesses can stay open, though those are also goals.
“With this unprecedented opportunity to really transform our state and have a strong recovery with good jobs, comes a real responsibility for our elected leadership, including me, to do it right,” Polis said in his opening remarks for the listening stop, which was conducted over Zoom and centered around 30-minute breakout sessions.
Though the federal legislation passed without a single Republican vote, elected officials are hoping the deployment of this money on the state level can be bipartisan.
“This shouldn’t be a political issue,” State House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar (D-Pueblo) said. “This is actual help that is coming into the state of Colorado to build back stronger.”
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In their recaps of the breakout sessions, moderators described those themes of using the money to encourage sustained economic growth.
“If we’re sitting here 20 years from now and people are looking at the state of Colorado, they’ll say that the state removed the obstacles, they drove the partnerships, they built out the kind of infrastructure and we learned from this pandemic in a way that made people want to come to Colorado,” moderator Berrick Abramson said. He said his group discussed direct investments into broadband connectivity, transportation and outdoor recreation.
Facilitator Cally King also said transportation was a major talking point in her group, both locally around Pueblo but also along Interstate 25 for north-south travel and U.S. Highway 160 in Trinidad for east-west interconnectedness.
The "Build Back Stronger" listening tour is continuing until April 7 with virtual stops in the eastern plains, Northern Colorado, Colorado Springs, Four Corners and Denver.
“We look forward to doing a lot more listening in the next few weeks and really continuing this conversation about how we can best deploy these one-time funds for the maximum short, medium and long-term benefit of the people of Southern Colorado,” Polis said.
Chieftain reporter Sara Wilson can be reached via email at SWilson@gannett.com or on Twitter: @WilsonSaraJane.