Led by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy and the Colorado Fiscal Institute, 135 organizations from the state are urging Gov. Jared Polis and the General Assembly to save programs from budget cuts by applying a "three-pronged approach" that includes a tax increase.
When the state legislature resumes its session on May 26, lawmakers will be looking at a hefty budget cut of $3.3 billion because of the economic blow from the coronavirus outbreak. The goal is to preserve education, social safety nets and the economy, lawmakers face cutting 25.2% from the state's operating fund.
Some of the big-ticket budget items that are awaiting a decision by the Joint Budget Committee, and their cost.
Joey Bunch: "When the players take the field for the second half of this year’s General Assembly on May 26, consider it more of a seventh-inning stretch for state tax dollars."
The organizations that signed the letter include homelessness advocacy groups, immigrant rights groups, healthcare access groups, as well as the Colorado Association of School Boards and the Colorado Association of School Executives.
Their letter asks for:
Using state budget reserves.
Passing a temporary state tax.
Deploying federal aid to fill budget gaps.
The proposed tax increase would creates income brackets with increasing rates, generating revenue "to help prevent the worst of the budget cuts while reducing taxes on low and middle income Coloradans so they can better meet their needs, spend money locally and drive the recovery of our economy."
The proposal would require lawmakers to declare a health emergency through a joint resolution with a two-thirds vote. Passing the emergency restructuring would require two-thirds support in each chamber, which is 24 in the Senate and 44 in the House.
That would mean five Republican senators would have to join all 19 Democratic senators would have to vote for both. In the House, three Republicans would have to vote for those proposals, assuming all 41 Democrats also were in favor.
And that's a tall order. State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling told Colorado Politics that his caucus is firmly against raising taxes. He said he believes no Republican senator will support those proposals.
Elliot Goldbaum of the Colorado Fiscal Institute said part of the reason they released the letter today was to tell lawmakers what these cuts would mean to their communities if they do nothing.
"A significant amount of people from recent polling support this idea rather than cutting the budget," Goldbaum said.
The polling, from Keating Resesarch, is on a related ballot proposal, known as fair tax, and showed that 68% of likely Colorado voters in November say the state should avoid cuts to services like schools, roads and health care by increasing taxes on the wealthy.
The letter highlights the loss of jobs Coloradans faced amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Saving our primary care clinics and hospitals is critical but will be insufficient if their patients lose their housing, cannot get enough food to eat, or cannot afford transportation to get to their appointments," the letter states.
"Affordable housing options for people with disabilities are critical, but they will be insufficient if those who don’t have the ability to work lose access to income maintenance. Job training for people seeking employment is critical but it will be insufficient if the children of workers have a shortened school week and there is no access to affordable child care. Rural development funds are critical but will be insufficient if rural hospitals and colleges lay off employees and reduce services or close."
Colorado Politics reporter Marianne Goodland contributed to this report.