U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton knew, or at least should have known, that money from the $2.2 trillion coronavirus aid package approved by Congress last month included no money for smaller local governments, Gov. Jared Polis said in a blistering letter to the Republican congressman this week.
In response to an April 17 letter from Tipton to Polis in which the congressman accused the Democratic governor of wanting to keep all of the money the state is getting under that package, the governor wrote back that the 3rd Congressional District congressman worked on and voted for the coronavirus bill that expressly singled out higher populated cities and counties for additional money, but purposely left out smaller communities for anything.
So the governor said he was surprised to have Tipton write to him and later post on his Facebook page false information about the aid bill.
“It is troubling that you continue to proliferate misinformation related to the $1.7 billion in the Coronavirus Relief Fund that the state and its local governments are slated to benefit from,” Polis wrote back to Tipton on Wednesday.
“As you well know, the bill you and Congress developed not only reduced the requested funding needed for state governments, but inexplicably prohibited communities of 500,000 or less from accessing direct aid dollars,” Polis wrote. “We remain unclear why Congress chose to strictly prohibit communities of 500,000 or less from directly accessing aid dollars. As you and your Colorado congressional delegation colleagues indicated in a letter dated April 21, ‘Congress should not be picking winners and losers in our nationwide recovery.’ ”
In his original letter to Polis, Tipton said he had heard “rumors” that the governor planned to use all of the money the state was to receive — another $500,000 went directly to five highly populated counties in the Denver metropolitan area — to balance the state’s budget. As things stand now, the Legislature is expected to have to make $2 billion to $3 billion in cuts for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
“I am extremely concerned about information I have received that indicates your office plans to use all of Colorado’s CARES Act funds to balance the state’s budget, rather than allocate a portion of the funds to county and local governments to help offset their revenue losses and unforeseen expenses related to the pandemic,” Tipton wrote. “This decision would be completely unacceptable, against congressional intent for these funds, and I request an immediate response from you or your office on this matter.”
In one of his press conferences last week on the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic a day after Tipton sent his letter, Polis said he was surprised with the congressman, saying that as a former member of the Colorado House, Tipton knows that the Legislature, and not the governor’s office, decides how state revenues are spent.
Over the past week, Colorado Counties Inc. and the Colorado Municipal League, the lobbying and advocacy associations for local governments, have been trying to show just how financially hard hit smaller local governments have been because of the pandemic and its impact on their economies.
While each local government doesn’t have actual dollar amounts yet, the two groups say it’s clearly in the hundreds of millions of dollars in additional expenses and lost revenues.
“The financial impact of this pandemic on cities and towns throughout Colorado is extreme,” said CML Executive Director Kevin Bommer. “Assistance from Congress and allocation of funding either directly or through the state will be crucial to ensure that municipalities continue to be able to provide essential services to their residents.”
In a survey released Thursday of 551 local governments and special districts conducted by the two groups, the Colorado Special Districts Association and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs showed that the average impact in lost revenues to local governments was about $10.5 million each.
In the survey, the local governments said it wasn’t just sales tax revenues that were lost, but also lodging taxes, use taxes, utility charges and licensing and permit fees, to name a few.
At the same time, local governments have been forced to spend more money than they budgeted for the year to help fight the pandemic, not only through their public health departments, but also in a three-fold increase in workloads for their human services agencies, among many other additional expenses.
That’s why the governor and many of the state’s congressional members are continuing to try to get Congress to approve more money for smaller local governments, and Polis urged Tipton to do the same.
U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, a Democrat who represents Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, has introduced a fifth coronavirus aid bill aimed squarely at smaller local governments. A fourth $484 billion bill that is nearing President Donald Trump’s desk didn’t include money for local governments because Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate wouldn’t support it.
Colorado’s U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-7th, introduced a similar measure, the Coronavirus Assistance for States Act, calling for $332 billion more for state and tribal governments.
Neguse’s measure, known as the Coronavirus Community Relief Act, would provide $250 billion in direct aid to cities and counties with populations of less than 500,000.
“Like their larger neighbors, these smaller counties, cities and towns have faced enormous costs while responding to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Neguse said. “We must ensure each of our communities receive direct stabilization funds to address the outbreak and recover when this public health emergency has passed.”
That bill already has 142 co-sponsors, only five of whom are Republicans. Tipton is one of them.