Several state and federal elected officials are telling local ones things that may not be true.
In an email to its members, Colorado Counties Inc., an advocacy and lobbying association, wrote that Gov. Jared Polis plans to withhold from local governments money intended for them under the coronavirus relief bill approved by Congress last month.
At the same time, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton lambasted Polis for the same rumors, saying the same thing.
Thing is, though, CCI Executive Director John Swartout incorrectly said in his email to county commissioners, including those in Mesa County, that Congress intended some of that money to go to local governments under 500,000 in population “as Congress intended.”
Actually, it didn’t.
The bill they are referring to, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, the $2.2 trillion CARES bill, expressly says that 45% of the money that states get are to go to local governments that have populations that exceed 500,000.
That rumor caught the eye of Tipton, who sent a letter to Polis on Friday demanding an explanation.
“Rumors that you plan to use the entirety of the federal aid to balance the state’s budget, and neglect to distribute the funds to smaller county, tribal and municipal governments for which they are intended, are deeply troubling,” wrote Tipton, who correctly noted that part of the money is to go to higher populated areas.
In his regular COVID-19 press briefing, Polis said he spoke to Tipton and reminded him that as a former member of the Colorado House, he should know that it’s the Colorado Legislature, and not the governor, who controls the state’s purse strings, so it’s up to them to decide how that money is to be spent.
The governor also said that smaller local governments might be better served with a fourth coronavirus aid bill that’s currently being discussed in Washington, D.C., one that could include direct money to local governments and hospitals.
“We’re also focused on how we’re on the same page with our municipalities, with our counties,” Polis said. “We wrote a joint letter with the Colorado Municipal League, with Colorado Counties, talking about what needs to be in that next phase, that phase four of federal assistance.”
The CCI email spurred Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese and state Rep. Janice Rich, R-Grand Junction, to repeat the false news on social media Friday.
“Shocker!,” Pugliese wrote on Twitter. “It appears the Polis Administration made the decision to use the state and local government CARES Act funding, almost $1.7 billion dollars, to balance the state’s budget.”
Rich later corrected her Facebook post after checking the matter with the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
In an interview, Swartout said that while it’s true that higher populated communities are to get direct disbursements under the CARES Act, that law allowed, but did not require, states to dole out part of its share to local governments.
Meanwhile, Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, in forwarding Swartout’s email to the Mesa County Board of Commissioners, Rich and state Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta, wrote that Colorado Treasurer Dave Young was blocking a plan to issue $500 million in bonds to fund state and local transportation projects.
“You should also know that the Treasure (sic) stopped the 500 million going to CDOT as of yesterday,” Scott wrote on Friday. “That will impact not only state projects but local agency projects. Brace for impact……”
Thing is, that also is not true.
Young’s office said that the bonds, which were part of a transportation funding bill approved by the Colorado Legislature two years ago, initially were to be issued back in October, but he held off because CDOT hadn’t yet spent the first $500 million that were issued in 2018.
Instead, he planned to do so in March, but because of what the COVID-19 pandemic did to the nation’s economy, he decided to hold off until at least May in hopes the bond market would improve.
“We are required by statute to issue the second tranche of SB267 COPs by June 30, 2020,” Young told The Daily Sentinel. “It’s important to me that we are doing everything we can to push the issuance forward in a timely manner, while keeping a close eye on the economy and the markets so we can make use of the funds as soon as possible.”
Young’s office said, somewhat sarcastically, that’s its hard to sell bonds when there are no buyers, and buying bonds with higher interest rates, which is the case in the bond market right now, means less money to spend on projects.
Young said he is waiting to see if it will be necessary to ask the Legislature for an extension on that deadline. That will depend on what the bond market does, he said.