Bell President Reflects on 2018 Legislative Session

2018 legislative sessionLegislative session is one of the busiest time of year for the Bell. For five months, Colorado’s lawbooks are open for editing and veterans know there’s no limit on the mischief and/or progress that’s possible. It’s easy to get distracted by all the various issues being debated under the Gold Dome, and we work hard to stay focused on our mission: economic mobility for every Coloradan. To that end, our team spends the first half of the year testifying, lobbying, strategizing, offering media commentary, and teaming up with our many partners to ensure economic justice has a strong voice in the Capitol corridors.  

Related: 2018 Legislative Session Report Card

Entering the 2018 legislative session, we brought our policymakers a clear analysis of what we believe holds Coloradans back. As we documented in our Guide to Economic Mobility, rising costs and flat wages have led to a paradoxical contrast: a top-notch economy nobody feels particularly good about. We also documented the four economic forces policymakers must contend with, and in 2018, legislators had a chance to take these factors into consideration and make things a little better for struggling Coloradans. While we saw a slew of great ideas put onto bill paper, nearly all of them met their end in the Senate’s State Affairs committee.   

Using every tool at our disposal, we advocated together with dozens of partner organizations for practical proposals. On each bill, our message was clear: It doesn’t have to be this way. We can help Coloradans save more for retirement. We can ensure women are paid the same as men. Parents shouldn’t have to choose between their job and taking care of a loved one. Local communities can raise the wage floor.   

This legislative session did result in some reduction of the costs families struggle with. Speaker Crisanta Duran’s child care tax credit expansion will allow more families to afford rising child care costs. More money toward higher education in this year’s budget will mean college tuition increases will remain low, despite how high they’ve already become. Legislators also appropriated money to encourage the development of more affordable housing 

Although some progress was made, our state’s fiscal limitations make substantial relief an impossibility. Even with significantly more revenue coming in this year, the choices legislators needed to make were painful. The debate around transportation is the perfect example of how deep the hole we’re trying to escape truly is. Legislators agreed to appropriate $500M this year, $150M next year, and $50M per year for the next 20 years for bonding. As historic as those decisions are, two things remain true: It’s not enough to meet our total transportation needs; and without a dedicated revenue stream, those dollars will come at the expense of our schools, public colleges, child care, and so many other already-underfunded priorities that affect the average Coloradan’s household budget.

Even with the missed opportunities to advance some great ideas around economic mobility this year, we’re proud the 2018 legislative session did no harm.

We pushed back against a bill that would have given debt collectors an outrageous upper hand against consumers, and we helped ensure legislators gave the challenges of the gig economy careful consideration before taking away important employment protections from hundreds of thousands of workers. Preposterous proposals to cut taxes and decrease our revenue were soundly defeated.  

With the session behind us, our advocacy focus shifts to the ballot box and battle of ideas that will take place in Colorado this summer and fall. Our effort to cap payday lending interest rates just survived a title board challenge, and a broad array of organizations will be collecting signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot. With the possibility of two tax measures on the ballot, we’ll also intensify our public education efforts to make sure Coloradans understand how we ended up in such dire fiscal straits. Finally, we will continue to build relationships with lawmakers on both sides of the political divide, doing our part to make sure, come next legislative session, our elected leaders are fully prepared to join us in our mission of ensuring economic mobility for every Coloradan.