DENVER – In the absence of new federal coronavirus economic relief, Colorado’s Democrat-led Legislature convened on Monday in a special session called by Gov. Jared Polis to pass bills offering sales tax relief and state grants to small businesses, tenants and public school districts affected by the pandemic.
Democratic lawmakers unveiled bills offering a combined $280 million to help small firms through the winter; sustain child care facilities; deliver rental and mortgage aid for landlords and tenants; and boost food pantry stocks.
The proposals also cover fortifying broadband and internet access for public school teachers and students; helping residents pay utility bills; and a $100 million transfer to the state for mounting COVID-related public health expenses.
Lawmakers considered bipartisan legislation to allow restaurants, bars and food vendors to keep state sales tax collections they otherwise would have to remit to the state, at least through February. But at least one restaurant owner pointed out that new health orders meant he has no indoor customers, next-to-nothing sales, and not much of a tax credit to keep.
“We have so many businesses that will not be allowed to open ... the majority of December, therefore not allowing us to make any sales. Therefore not allowing us to benefit from this bill at all,” Chase Bonner, owner of Parrott’s Sports Grille in Firestone, told the House Finance Committee.
The bill would allow more than 7,600 businesses keep tax revenue of at least $2,000 per month, according to fiscal analysts. A co-sponsor, Republican Rep. Kevin Van Winkle, said he hoped to extend the credits when lawmakers convene in January for their 2021 session.
Many states want President Donald Trump and Congress to extend the Dec. 30 deadline for spending virus relief money already allocated under the CARES Act, which was approved in March, and to provide more federal funding to deal with the consequences of the latest surge.
In Denver, lawmakers and staff entering the Colorado capitol were tested for the coronavirus. Remote and written, but not in-person, testimony was permitted.
Polis, a Democrat, announced Saturday that he and first gentleman Marlon Reis tested positive for the coronavirus but are asymptomatic.
Under lawmakers’ consideration:
$57 million in small business relief, including $37 million in direct payments, nearly $7 million to the state health department to cover local license fees for restaurants hit by capacity restrictions, and nearly $2 million to cover liquor license fees.The temporary state sales tax waiver.$45 million to support or expand 2,600 child care center operators.$50 million in housing assistance for landlords and residents to be used through June.$20 million in grants to school districts for broadband, Wi-Fi and other means to facilitate remote learning.
The emergency aid would come from higher than anticipated revenues in the current fiscal year state budget. Polis already has ordered that $375 stimulus checks be sent to those who received unemployment benefits from March to October. The money is expected to be sent out in early December.
The pandemic has killed more than 2,500 people in Colorado and infected more than 228,000, straining the state’s emergency hospital capacity.
The coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.
Patty Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.