Considering the daunting budgetary and deadline challenges that Colorado legislators faced because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 session was a tough, short and productive one for advocacy groups focused on the health and well-being of Coloradans.
The General Assembly started afresh in January with economic forecasts a little cooler than previous years — but nothing terribly dire — until COVID-19 forced legislators to suspend the session, leaving many bills in limbo. When lawmakers returned in late May, they were faced with a severe economic downturn, soaring unemployment, the threat of rising evictions and a $3.3 billion budget shortfall — not to mention the most serious public health crisis in 100 years. To further complicate matters, legislators had significantly less time to wrap up their work.
In the end, it’s safe to say that legislators took a measured approach to bridge the fiscal issues with the growing needs of Coloradans facing poverty amid a derailed economy.
Victories for advocacy groups include: the expansion of the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC); an easy-enroll process that would help Coloradans filing taxes get the health coverage they need; a measure to fix and improve the state’s successful reinsurance program, and tenants’ rights legislation for Coloradans who reside in mobile home lots and those who have been named in eviction filings.
Earlier this week, the Colorado Senate approved a scaled-back House Bill 1420, which closed and modified tax breaks that favored the wealthiest Coloradans to backfill the education budget for the next two years and expand the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit. Also, starting in 2022, immigrant tax filers will be eligible for the state EITC for the first time. Near the beginning of the session, lawmakers introduced HB 1203, which would have expanded the EITC and commenced the payment of the Child Tax Credit by changing tax deductions for corporations. However, bill sponsors Rep. Emily Sirota and Rep. Matt Gray pulled HB 1203 in favor of HB 1420, without the Child Tax Credit, but with a different funding mechanism to pay for the expansion. Though the scope of HB 1420 has been narrowed, the expansion of the EITC will make a meaningful difference for hard-working Colorado families. Let’s thank the Colorado Fiscal Institute and all who supported this important bill. Legislators should be commended for passing SB 217, the Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity Act. If signed into law by the governor, the bill makes Colorado among the first states in the country to tackle wholesale, statewide police accountability reform.
Despite the progress mentioned above, there’s still much work to be done. We are concerned that the General Assembly failed to extend a badly needed eviction moratorium. While Gov. Polis’ new executive order on evictions requires landlords to give 30-day notice for eviction for non-payment of rent, we question whether this is enough to address the critical housing-security issue — given the severity of the economic downturn triggered by the pandemic. We encourage the governor to seek longer-term policy solutions to what could degenerate into a grave problem of rising homelessness. We also worry that deep cuts in the state budget will have a disproportionate, negative effect on Coloradans hurt most in the ongoing economic and public health crisis.
Though the scaled-back HB 1420 will prevent some cuts in the state’s budget, it’s apparent that Colorado will need more revenue to successfully recover from the economic downturn. Voters may get a chance to address this issue in the November election if Initiative 271 (the Fair Tax Colorado proposal) gets on the ballot. Unfortunately, even if the measure is approved by voters, it will only provide fiscal relief for the state after 2021.
All in all, we’re pleased that legislators made poverty and equity issues a major priority in 2020, despite severely diminished financial resources and a lack of time. Rest assured, advocacy groups are already rolling up their sleeves for the 2021 session in defense of Coloradans facing poverty.
Bob Mook is communications director for the Colorado Center on Law and Policy. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org