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Polis pitches COVID stimulus plan to Colorado state lawmakers

Gov. Jared Polis pitched his idea to provide money to restaurants, police departments and more to the six legislators who could release the money immediately.

DENVER — One in every 100 people in the Denver metro area is contagious with the coronavirus.

That's the new statistic that Democratic Colorado Gov. Jared Polis provided after he pitched the powerful Joint Budget Committee (JBC) on a state-funded stimulus package that requires some immediate action.

Polis detailed his 2021-22 budget proposal to the six-member JBC, which essentially writes the budget before all 100 lawmakers get to review, revise and vote on it starting in March.

He has recommended a $1.3 billion state-funded stimulus package, with $205 million requiring action now.

"It needs to be spent quickly, to maximize the benefit and leverage it over time," said Polis.

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Of the proposal, $105 million is for restaurant relief. Part of it would allow restaurants to keep the state's 2.9% sales tax for four months, up to $2,000 each month. That means restaurants can keep 29 cents for each $10 spent.

Part of that $105 million would be $2,000-$10,000 grants for businesses that face capacity restrictions.

"That would include venues, bars, others that are either closed or under severe operating restrictions, to help them pay rent, keep folks on board to the extent that they're operating," Polis told Next with Kyle Clark following the budget briefing.

The JBC can approve interim spending, while the entire legislature is out of session.

The legislative session starts on Jan. 13.

"There's ways to do that that are not part of that normal budget process, which normally doesn't get going until February, March, April, that's too late to help restaurants get through winter, to help renters pay their rent in December and January," said Polis.

Another $50 million of his urgent spending would provide rental assistance.

And, $900 million of the stimulus would be spending that could wait until the legislature is in session.

It includes money for shovel-ready road and bridge projects and broadband infrastructure for rural areas.

His budget director estimated those projects could create 10,000-15,000 jobs.

"This is worth the sacrifice that it brings to redirect funds into this because of the potential of what it can do for our economy," said Lauren Larson, the governor's budget director.

Part of that $900 million includes $4 million for local law enforcement to purchase body cameras.

How does that stimulate the economy?

"It's a one-time investment, which is what we mean by stimulus. Otherwise, local law enforcement has to cover the cost of these mandated body cams," said Polis.

In June, Polis signed a police accountability bill into law, which requires all local law enforcement to use body cameras by July 2023.

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"It also means that local police departments won't need to cut back or lay people off just to afford body cams, it really makes sure this is not an unfunded mandate, but the state is stepping up to help pay for body cams," said Polis.

His budget proposal also calls for $422 million to be put into savings.

The state's general fund reserve is down to 2.8%. This would bring it back to 10%.

"Might we be saving too much? Is 10 percent the right level?" asked JBC member Sen. Chris Hansen (D-Denver).

"We have in mind '22-'23, '23-'24, and the question of how best we can avoid having to cut things again," said Polis.

Colorado is already projected to have more expenses than revenue in those years.

According to Larson, when you take into account the ballot decisions by voters last week, Colorado will have an extra $105 million next year.

But that won't last.

In 2023, the state has to start paying $500 million in paid family leave fees for state employees.

"We certainly don't want the stimulus to contribute to future deficits. That's very important," said Polis.

"I just want to ask, on (Republicans) behalf, for maximum transparency, maximum involvement of everybody in the legislature. This is not a partisan issue. It's one that, I think, we should all get behind for the good of the people of Colorado," said JBC member Sen. Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale).

Earlier on Thursday, Broncos Insider Mike Klis reported that the Denver Broncos will continue to be allowed 5,700 fans for home games.

Previously, Polis has said that Mile High Stadium is considered multiple smaller venues that can handle 175 people in different sections.

But while the Broncos will be allowed to have thousands of fans, families are being encouraged to limit Thanksgiving gatherings at home.

"At the game, very low transmission; outdoors, spaced out, you're very unlikely to get it from other people in other parties," said Polis. "Right now, one-in-100 people are contagious with Coronavirus in the Denver Metro Area. That means that you're putting yourself in a major risk if you're going to a Broncos game or a restaurant with members of another household who may be contagious and not yet know it."

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