Gov. Polis Allocates $1.6B From CARES Act Without Bipartisan Collaboration

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks on Friday, May 15. (Photo: YouTube screenshot)

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks on Friday, May 15. (Photo: YouTube screenshot)

In issuing Executive Order D 2020 070, Colorado Governor Jared Polis revealed who gets how much of Colorado’s $1.674 billion from the CARES Act federal stimulus package.

Despite earlier statements saying the process of allocating the money would be bipartisan, Gov. Polis chose to forego such collaboration and, it appears, decided how to spend all that money virtually on his own.

The decisions on allocating the funds were made without any input from the Joint Budget Committee or Colorado Republican legislators.

In fact, it is unclear exactly who, if anyone, worked with Gov. Polis, a Democrat, in deciding how to allocate the money.

In a statement to KOA NewsRadio, Conor Cahill, spokesperson for Gov. Polis, declined to confirm that the governor worked Colorado Senate President Leroy Garcia (D-Pueblo) and Colorado Speaker of the House KC Becker (D-Boulder) but both are quoted in the governor’s press release announcing the CARES Act allocations.

KOA NewsRadio emails to both lawmakers seeking to confirm their possible involvement in determining how to spend the CARES Act funds had yet to be answered as of Wednesday morning, May 20.

It is abundantly clear, however, that Gov. Polis entirely avoided Republican input in the process.

“The staff and members of the Joint Budget Committee, liaisons for dozens of state departments and programs, and representatives from every sector of our society have been hunkered down for the last two and a half months attempting to develop a budget despite historic decreases in revenue,” State Senator Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale) said in a statement released by the Colorado Senate Republicans.

Sen. Rankin is a member of the Joint Budget Committee, which consists of four Democrats and two Republicans.

“For the Governor to announce this allocation of funds—without so much as consulting the chief budgeting body—is not only a lapse in leadership but has now eliminated the people’s voice over how their money is spent. To say that I’m disappointed would be putting it lightly. How do we build a budget around the whims of one man with no deliberative process?” Sen. Rankin added.

Colorado Senate Republicans spokesman Sage Nauman confirmed to KOA that Gov. Polis allocated the CARES Act funds without consulting or working with any Republicans in the state legislature.

“Not a single Republican member was collaborated with, and to my knowledge, the only knowledge they had was within an hour or so of the press release,” Nauman said. “As far as we’re aware, members of the Joint Budget Committee were not briefed, but it is apparent that Senate President Leroy Garcia and House Speaker KC Becker were involved in the discussions. To what extent, and who else may have been involved, we can only speculate.”

When KOA asked the governor’s office about the omission of bipartisan input, Cahill characterized the governor’s collaboration by saying, “The administration works closely in a bipartisan way with the federal delegation and legislative leadership to help the state respond to the challenges created by this pandemic.”

Cahill said time was of the essence.

“This global pandemic has created unique challenges for hardworking Coloradans and our local communities so there is no time to waste,” Cahill said. “And we need to go on learning and living and the Governor is helping us get back to something as close to normal as possible. The Governor acted quickly and urgently to get the CARES act money out the door to our local communities and schools, and was proud to work with legislative leadership in announcing the money going out.”

There is no doubt Colorado Republicans are anything but pleased at the politicization of the CARES Act resources.

In a press release sent out late Tuesday afternoon, the Colorado GOP called “on Governor Polis to activate and utilize all branches of our government to collaborate and make these critical decisions instead of ruling by Executive Order.”

“Governor Polis took it upon himself to allocate and distribute over $1.6 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds,” Colorado GOP chairman and the State’s 4th District Congressman Ken Buck said. “We have three branches of government in Colorado, and the branch which constitutionally holds the power of the purse was completely ignored by this action. The voters of Colorado have selected their local State Representatives and State Senators to work together to find solutions for the problems of the day. The voices of Colorado voters should not be silenced by Executive Order.”

The governor’s Executive Order outlining CARES Act expenditures directly contradicts his comments regarding those resources in a news conference on April 17.

At that time, Gov. Polis talked about working together to make the decisions on how to allocate and distribute CARES Act money.

“The legislature has the power of the purse,” the governor said on April 17. “The JBC [Joint Budget Committee], the members of the legislature are going to work through this. And that means they’re going to have their competing interests that they’re going to need to balance. They’re going to be hearing from their mayors and their counties saying, ‘We need help.’ They’re also going to be hearing from their school districts and others that get funded by the State. If you’re sending money there, it means there’s less money for schools. That’s the work that we do in representative government. We of course look forward to working with the JBC and with the legislature.”

Nauman tells KOA the Joint Budget Committee should have been involved in determining how CARES Act dollars were to be allocated.

“The Joint Budget Committee and the legislature as a whole is always responsible for increases in revenue and the distribution of those funds, hence why the Governor’s Executive Order is so unprecedented. The Governor himself said that the legislature has the power of the purse just a month ago when asked about these same funds.”

KOA asked Cahill, assuming there was no collaboration with Republicans: “If the governor generally requests and values collaboration with the President and federal government, why would he be unwilling to collaborate with members of the minority party in his own state legislature on how to spend CARES Act resources?”

Cahill did not address the question in his response.

Gov. Polis’ handling of the allocation of Colorado’s CARES Act money in a purely partisan manner is in stark contrast to his expectation of the federal government.

Partisan collaboration, while obviously common in politics, was not at all what he was seeking when he spoke with President Trump in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, May 13.

In that meeting, Gov. Polis stressed the need for the federal government to provide things such as money, testing equipment and supplies to the states, especially Colorado.

“One of the reasons that an invitation to meet with the President is always an invitation you can’t refuse is the opportunity to advance Colorado’s needs and how we can better partner with the federal government,” he told reporters after meeting with President Trump last week.

After the meeting, Gov. Polis told reporters why he did not discuss mail-in voting with President Trump, an issue on which the two men disagree. Gov. Polis supports it; President Trump does not.

“You know the President and I have had our differences on unrelated policies. This is a time for all Americans to work together,” Gov. Polis said on May 13. “I think a sound approach throughout this is not to pick political fights with anybody in particular but rather to have a spirit of collaboration.”

Now Colorado Republicans are wondering why the governor has a different standard of collaboration when it comes to in-state issues such as spending Colorado CARES Act money.

Tuesday, Republican Congressman Scott Tipton, who represents Colorado’s 3rd District primarily on the Western Slope, took issue with how the governor allocated CARES Act dollars.

“He has unilaterally through an executive order decided how he would use the funds. Either the Governor has forgotten his own accounting of how the state budget process works, or his response in April was an effort to deflect and distract from the question of if he would distribute the funds to local governments for COVID related expenses, as so many have requested,” Rep. Tipton said.

The governor’s comments on April 17 came when he was asked about a letter Cong. Tipton sent to him expressing concern that CARES Act funds could possibly be spent inappropriately.

There is no question as to the position of Colorado Republicans.

“Governor Polis has clearly overstepped his powers by deciding how CARES Act dollars shall be allocated, and it seems that General Assembly Democrats have no qualms with ceding the power of the legislature to the executive,” said Colorado Assistant Senate Minority Leader John Cooke (R-Greeley). “The voice of the people needs to be heard in the allocation of $1.6 billion in emergency funding and that cannot happen without the input of elected legislators. This is a shameful act of political showmanship that is in contrast with our governing balance of powers.”

Whatever one calls it, however one describes the process, Executive Order D 2020 070 stands.

“It’s destined to stand for the time being, save for a reversal of his own order or interference from the courts,” Nauman told KOA.

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KOA NewsRadio asked Governor Polis’ spokespeople a series of specific questions pertaining to the process by which the governor determined the allocation of CARES Act money.

Spokesperson Conor Cahill provided the following statement, which represents the full response from Gov. Polis to KOA:

“This global pandemic has created unique challenges for hardworking Coloradans and our local communities so there is no time to waste. And we need to go on learning and living and the Governor is helping us get back to something as close to normal as possible. The Governor acted quickly and urgently to get the CARES act money out the door to our local communities and schools, and was proud to work with legislative leadership in announcing the money going out. This much needed funding will quickly support the State’s strong response to COVID-19, help parent return to work by ensuring rural, urban and suburban schools and local governments have the tools they need to adapt to this new reality, and provide a much needed boost to economic activity in Colorado. The administration works closely in a bipartisan way with the federal delegation and legislative leadership to help the state respond to the challenges created by this pandemic.”

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In addition, as mentioned above, KOA NewsRadio emails to Colorado Senate President Leroy Garcia and Colorado Speaker of the House KC Becker asking about their possible involvement in the process and reaction to the lack of bipartisan collaboration have yet to be answered as of Wednesday morning, May 20.

Should either respond, this story will be updated.

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The release from the Colorado Senate Republicans is HERE.

The release from the Colorado Republican party is HERE.

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From the governor's office on Monday, May 18:

Gov. Polis and Legislative Leadership Announce Agreement on the Disbursement of Federal CARES Act Funds to Immediately Respond to the COVID-19 Health and Economic Crisis

DENVER - Governor Jared Polis, in collaboration with legislative leadership, announced today the allocation of $1.674 billion in federal funds from the CARES Act that will immediately support the State’s robust response to the COVID-19 crisis as well as key investments needed for economic recovery. 

“COVID-19 has taken the lives of too many Coloradans and disrupted our way of life, and this has been a very challenging time for our entire state. I am grateful for the support we have received from the federal government, but there will still be hardship ahead. This immediate disbursement ensures that no Coloradan has to go without a hospital bed when they need one, that the state can continue to scale up testing and containment, and protect our most vulnerable. It allows parents to return to work by ensuring that our schools have needed resources to adapt to our new reality and helps our frontline local governments in their coronavirus response. My administration is working closely in a bipartisan way with the federal delegation and legislative leadership to do everything in our power to help Coloradans overcome this generational challenge. The steps we are taking now will allow us to increase much needed economic activity in our state,” said Gov. Polis.

“This agreement quickly channels over $1.6 billion directly to our school districts, universities and local governments to help them retain first responders, support our health care workforce, protect our veterans and seniors and rapidly expand contact tracing so we can safely restart our economy. Schools and universities can use it to help them prepare for the fall so parents can go back to work and we can rebuild our workforce. I look forward to the bipartisan work ahead to allocate the remaining funds and pass legislation that helps Coloradans and small businesses get through this crisis.” Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder. 

“The CARES Act funding is an indispensable lifeline for our state––helping us ease the immediate economic and public health pains caused by COVID-19. But it’s nowhere near enough in terms of recovery,” said Senate President Leroy Garcia. “As members of the legislature, we will continue working hard alongside the Governor and the Joint Budget Committee to protect Coloradans during this challenging time. However we need Congress to do much more, especially for those communities like mine in Pueblo that the CARES Act explicitly left behind.”

Governor Polis signed an Executive Order today authorizing the following transfers:

  1. For Medical expenses and Public health expenses incurred or expected to be incurred in the State’s Disaster Emergency Fund, $48 million transferred for FY 2019-20 and $157 million set-aside for FY 2020-21. This includes amounts expected to be distributed to local public health agencies for COVID-19 response.
  2. For Expenditures to comply with public health measures pertaining to maintaining veterans living facilities, State prisons and other State facilities with congregate care, including sanitation and effectively implementing social distancing measures, $2 million transferred for FY 2019-20 and $8 million set-aside for FY 2020-21. These funds will be available to improve the safety of our prisons, veterans living facilities, youth services centers, and mental health facilities.
  3. For Expenditures incurred to respond to second-order effects of the emergency, including caseload increases for at-risk pupils and human services programs during the COVID-19-driven recession, $2 million transferred for FY 2019-20 and $57 million set aside for FY 2020-21.
  4. For Expenses to respond to second-order effects of the emergency, including payments for emergency rental and mortgage assistance, as well as additional direct assistance where appropriate, for individuals that have been economically impacted by COVID-19, with preference given to individuals that are ineligible for other forms of assistance such as unemployment insurance, food benefits, or direct federal stimulus payments, $10 million transferred for FY 2019-20.
  5. For Expenses associated with the provision of economic support in connection with the COVID-19 public health emergency, including payments to stimulate the economy by supporting Colorado’s workforce with school-aged children, $500 million transferred to local school districts and proportionally by student population to the Charter School Institute and the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind and $25,000 to each Board of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES) in the state for a total of $510 million above the Constitutionally required state share of public school finance to increase free instructional hours for our kindergarten through 12th grade education system while complying with COVID-19 public health orders, including facilitating distance learning and social distancing for in-person contact hours, and mitigating lost learning, and $450 million transferred to public institutions of higher education to increase student retention and completions, given Colorado’s critical shortage of skilled workforce. 
  6. For Payroll expenses and other necessary State expenditures for public safety, public health, health care, human services, and similar employees whose services are substantially dedicated to mitigating or responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency, $85 million set aside for FY 2019-20 and FY 2020-21, including at the Office of the State Controller for expenses related to accounting for and monitoring the use of federal funds related to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
  1. Expenses of local governments that did not receive a direct distribution of funds in the CARES Actto facilitate compliance with COVID-19-related public health measures, $275 million for FY 2019-20 and FY 2020-21.

These resources will support local communities both directly, as funds flow from State agencies to local partners, and indirectly. A significant portion of the allocation for the public health response will flow directly to local county public health agencies to ensure we have a robust statewide response through testing and contact tracing. In addition to these funds, our local communities are receiving significant federal resources, including $125 million to Colorado communities from the Department of Health and Human Services, more than $16 million in Community Development Block Grants, $8 million in Community Services Block Grants, and an estimated $30 million to local governments for COVID-19 testing. 

In addition to these funds, the state of Colorado has already received or is expected to receive, several direct transfers to fulfill critical needs including $2.25 million and as much as $8 million for crisis counseling and mental health support, $15.4 million in LEAP funds to help Coloradans pay their home heating bills, and $9.1 million in Byrne Justice Assistance grants to support local law enforcement adopt to COVID-19. The administration looks forward to engaging with the legislature on how to best serve Coloradans with these funds.  

The Governor sent a letter to the legislature today. 

The remaining $70 million in unallocated funds will be transferred to the General Fund for appropriations for when the legislative session resumes.  

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