A week ago in this space, we contemplated creative solutions the state of Colorado should consider to help communities emerge from the great COVID-19 recession better prepared to contend with a new economic reality.
But let’s face it: the state is hard-pressed to do much more than keep the lights on — at least in the short term. After grappling with a $3 billion budget shortfall related to the pandemic, the General Assembly is in no position to address the backlog of infrastructure deficiencies that could further stymie the economy.
The state’s infrastructure has barely improved since being deemed inadequate by the American Society of Civil engineers a decade ago. Since then, Colorado’s population has grown by more than 750,000 to 5.7 million and could add another million people by 2030 at the current rate of growth.
“We are stuck in the poor-to-mediocre category, and unless there is a surge of infrastructure investment soon, things could get worse.”
That’s an observation in a new report issued by Colorado Concern, a statewide CEO-based organization devoted to promoting a pro-business environment through the political process. It organized the Colorado Infrastructure Committee, a bipartisan coalition of business and civic leaders, nonprofits and state and local government leaders to identify shovel-ready projects if Congress passes some kind of infrastructure bill.
The House tried. Last month it passed a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called “pointless political theater” for the number of Green New Deal initiatives it included.
Politics aside, the Colorado Infrastructure Committee’s report, “Together We Build: How Federal Infrastructure Investment Can Put Coloradans Back to Work,” can be considered an imprimatur of the efficacy of federal investment in infrastructure.
It cites research by the Business Roundtable that every dollar invested in infrastructure delivers roughly $3.70 in additional economic growth every 20 years.
A $1 trillion infrastructure stimulus package would create an estimated 11.4 million jobs. That’s more than the 8.3 million jobs created under the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression.
If $1 trillion were doled out to states based on their percentage of the U.S. population, Colorado would be eligible for $17 billion to $20 billion.
The Colorado Infrastructure Committee has already done the hard work of reaching consensus on which projects should be prioritized based on three criteria: projects should be immediate (ready to start now), enduring (provide long-term value even if they take years to complete), and equitable (spread as evenly as possible across the state).
The state’s high-priority needs include up to $11 billion for transportation, $3 billion for water infrastructure, $3.65 billion for energy and the environment, $1.85 billion for education infrastructure and $770 million for local commerce and communications infrastructure.
This is no “pie in the sky” wish list. The committee only included projects that already have engineering sheets attached to them, members told the Sentinel’s editorial board last week.
It’s important work because it puts the state in a ready position if/when Congress gets it act together and it spells out how Colorado has historically received less than its population-based share of federal infrastructure investment. It gives Colorado lawmakers ammunition to argue that a federal infrastructure package should allow the state to catch up as well as prepare for a future with more people. This effort - a bipartisan statewide plan of action - is the first of its kind in the nation. As pointed out in the Committee's report, "A national infrastructure program can make a major contribution to the new jobs and higher incomes that we desperately need, while at the same time building—quite literally—a stronger future for our state".