2020 Legislative Session: What You Should Know

The 2020 legislative session is right around the corner, and even with the progress made in 2019, there is more to be done. It’s important to acknowledge the important initiatives that already are, or soon will be, making differences for Coloradans, like full-day kindergarten for our children and allowing cities to increase their minimum wage to ensure a living wage for everyone. There was also the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act to help close the wage gap for women and people of color, as well as a number of bills to lower the cost of health insurance that are already making a difference.

Let’s run down some of the topics that will be pushing forward during the 2020 legislative session (including giving all Coloradans the opportunity to save for retirement and commencing an Office of Financial Empowerment for communities across the state) to increase economic mobility for all Coloradans.

Universal Portable Benefits

As the economy and nature of work changes, so should our benefits. That means we can no longer rely on employers to provide benefits like health care, retirement or pension accounts, or paid family and medical leave. The need for retirement security, paid family and medical leave, and affordable health insurance for Coloradans is significant. Forty-three percent of working-age Coloradans, 780,000 in total, do not have access to retirement benefits through their workplace. Only 17 percent of civilian workers across the country have access to paid family and medical leave, according to a recent study by University of Denver. Finally, Gov. Polis’ administration says health insurance rates in the individual market have gone up by a staggering 80 percent between 2015 and 2019.

Much progress was made on making retirement savings accounts and paid family and medical leave universal and portable — meaning not attached to a singular job so an employee could take the benefit from job to job — during the last session. There were numerous bills tackling health insurance costs, including work toward a public option. Studies and task forces were commenced on how to structure those benefits. In fact, the governor proposed a paid family leave plan for state employees in his most recent budget proposal — something that should be available to all Coloradans, not just state workers. The administration has also proposed a health insurance public option on and off the state’s health exchange throughout Colorado. It would be a public-private partnership between the state and insurance providers. Final reports and plans will be available at some point during the first half of session, and the legislature should work to pass these important programs into law during the 2020 legislative session.

Fiscal & Tax Policy

Even though major structural change to our state’s fiscal policy has to be done through the ballot, there are smaller — but significant — measures that can be taken during the 2020 legislative session to shift our tax code in a more progressive direction.

As we have detailed, the combination of Colorado’s state and local taxes are regressive — the taxation burden falls more on low- and middle-income families than those at the upper end of the income ladder.

progressive income tax system, 2020 legislative session

With the Interim Committee on Tax Expenditures working through the summer and fall to find outdated or unnecessary tax credits in our tax code, there is a real opportunity to build on that work. Plus, there are many types of tax credits that go toward working families that other states have adopted, such as an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or a Child Tax Credit. Getting rid of tax credits we don’t need and putting in place ones for working families could help make our tax code fairer and help Coloradans offset some of the high costs of living.

Financial Equity & Empowerment

The Bell Policy Center has long been on the front lines of confronting the predatory economy. We have been able to limit the worst of these abuses and prevent some of the systematic practices that have led to many people being trapped in the cycle of debt. However, the next step we can take during the 2020 legislative session is ensuring historically marginalized communities have access to a financial system that has been mostly unavailable to them, and these communities have access to wealth-building capital.

To that end, working to make financial education a reliable part of any financial transaction is an important first step. Learning lessons from how the City of Denver has set up an Office of Financial Empowerment and how that has helped people across the city — and how those efforts can be reliably scaled across the state — is something the legislature should be considering. Additionally, the legislature should be considering methods of expanding access to safe and affordable banking and credit products, as well as methods and practices that can tangibly grow wealth in historically marginalized communities.

The Bell also hopes the legislature continues working with Attorney General Weiser during the 2020 legislative session to ensure all consumers have proper protections from financial products that keep Coloradans in debt and disadvantage businesses that operate within the rules.

Caring Workforce

As the need for child care and long-term care has risen — two-working parent households are rising and our population is agingwages of the workers in those industries have not kept pace. We should be looking at targeted approaches to increase wages and create career advancement opportunities, which will go a long ways to increasing recruitment and retention, as well as attracting more skilled workers to these vital industries.

There are numerous ways to help these workers, including loan forgiveness programs and certification incentives, as well as direct wage support or increased Medicaid reimbursement rates for long-term care workers. Creative solutions are increasingly necessary, as these vital workers support families across the state, the workforce is growing considerably, and workers deserve to be paid commensurate with their work.

Aging in Colorado

Colorado’s population is aging. With that comes unique challenges and opportunities for our state. In order to take advantage of the opportunities we must take steps to support our older adults, but also their paid and unpaid caregivers. While there’s no silver bullet to all of this, when we use a holistic, family-friendly approach that includes targeted investments in our families, our community support systems, and our workforce, we can do more to create a state that supports Coloradans of every age.

As the legislature debates important policy proposals in the 2020 legislative session, an aging lens should be used to ensure that older adults are part of the overall calculus of the effectiveness of any policy. Importantly, this must include focusing on our direct care workforce (one of the fastest growing fields in our state) and supporting our unpaid caregivers with workplace supports like paid family and medical leave.

How the State Budget Will Factor Into the 2020 Legislative Session

Of course, one of the biggest discussion points every year is the state budget. As we detailed after Governor Polis submitted his budget proposal, there are real opportunities to make investments for Coloradans across the spectrum that should make it in to a final budget this coming spring. Some of the big proposals Gov. Polis made:

  • $27.6 million to expand the Colorado Preschool Program to expand access to high-quality preschool for 6,000 more children
  • $40 million to pay down our IOU — known as the budget stabilization factor — on K-12 funding
  • $26 million more allocated to higher education, so as not to increase tuition more than 3 percent
  • $605 million in new funding for transportation

But due to constitutional constraints that pit programs and issues against each other, that isn’t the end of the story. With low tax rates, and the inability to even keep all of the money that comes to the state from these low taxes, there is a real limit to the amount of money that we can invest in all of the states priorities. Prioritization is important, but runs into the fact that the amount of revenue that we have as a state cannot continue to give all of our priorities the attention they deserve in a rapidly growing state. So our education needs run into our health care needs, which run into our transportation needs, which eat up parts of our higher education needs.

While we will keep advocating for what is needed for economic mobility across Colorado, and urge legislators to do the same, as long as our state continues to operate within arbitrary formulas and caps, we will be missing out on real opportunities to invest in programs to help Coloradans for years to come.

The legislature has a chance to continue providing for Coloradans and focus on ways for all people in our state to get ahead. And we will be watching as the 2020 legislative session gets underway in January.

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