With no certainty of additional coronavirus aid coming from the federal government, Gov. Jared Polis has called a rare special legislative session for state lawmakers to consider additional financial relief for Coloradans.
Kudos to the governor and legislative leaders for rising to the occasion. While Congress dithers over authorizing another relief package of its own, Coloradans are suffering. The governor already signed an executive order last month to provide a one-time payment of $375 to 400,000 Coloradans who earn less than $52,000 a year and have filed for unemployment benefits during the pandemic.
But more — much more — is obviously needed. The special session will focus on relief for small businesses, housing and rental support, support for child-care workers and expanding broadband access for those working and learning at home.
Funding these measures should help Coloradans survive what is shaping up to be a challenging winter. Polis is describing this relief as a “bridge” to a vaccine.
Anything the state can do to help businesses survive is an investment in the future. Keeping businesses viable will allow the economy rebound more quickly once widespread vaccinations begin. But if businesses go under, the ramp-up will significantly stalled.
To that end, Polis and the leaders of the Colorado House and Senate floated the idea Tuesday of allowing restaurants and bars to retain sales taxes for a limited time, to offset lost business.
The tax relief — which is essentially a grant program — would only apply to sit-down restaurants that are individually owned — not fast-food or chains.
Restaurants are particularly susceptible to capacity restrictions. Already operating on thin margins, many find it difficult to make money when they can’t operate at full capacity. Yet, these small businesses contribute greatly to every community’s cultural milieu. Losing them would amount to a double loss. The loss of jobs would be compounded by the lost color and character they add to our lives.
The city of Grand Junction did something similar in the early stages of the pandemic. It deferred the city’s share of sales tax collections in February, which amounted to a $5 million infusion of cash at a time when many businesses needed every cent to stay afloat. But that was essentially a loan made available to every business, whereas the state is considering targeted direct relief with no expectation of payback.
The Legislature’s action will only affect the state’s 2.9% sales tax rate, but we see no reason why local municipalities can’t extend the same offer with their tax rates. They could simply fall directly in line with state policy, offering the same tax grant program to eligible businesses.
We think it’s a smart move. We need these businesses to survive, not just so they can contribute to the economic rebound, but because they enrich our lives in a way that McDonald’s and Taco Bell can’t.