New Priorities for a New Normal

Over the course of the past few weeks, the Bell’s staff has been triaging, tracking, and analyzing the most major areas of economic need facing Colorado in the wake of this pandemic. As we approach the resumption of the state legislative session, we are reorganizing our policy priorities to meet the needs of a new normal. In it, we anticipate continued uncertainty as communities do their best to re-open economies, but also take measures to keep people as safe as possible.  

1. Public Funding for Public Priorities

Plummeting state and local revenues mean we must now deal with a budget shortfall equivalent to 20 percent of our state budget. Every public priority — schools, roads, health care, and colleges — will be affected. These cuts will have an economic ripple effect, increasing cost burdens on families, hurting local economies, and widening economic gaps that were of rising concern even before the pandemic.

Even when our economy was booming and best in the nation, our tax system was unfair and inadequate. That’s even more true today. We need to figure out the best ways to ensure financial relief gets to those who need it most and, while many cuts will be unavoidable, thoroughly explore every option for funding essential public priorities. A graduated income tax, a modernized sales tax, and other overdue reforms must be on the table.

2. Changes to Our Unemployment System

Our unemployment system has never been more critical. It now provides compensation to 360,000 Coloradans and is likely to continue to do so for a significant number of others through the next few months. Nimbleness will be critical in an off-on economy. Work share programs allow people to have hours cut without being entirely laid off. Allowing people to access valuable training while on unemployment is another essential innovation. 

3. Protections for Consumers

The number of financially vulnerable Coloradans has exploded. Without temporary protections from debt collections and wage garnishment in the immediate aftermath of this economic shock, the toll will not only overwhelm our financial and judicial systems, it will also thrust more Coloradans into the predatory economy. Beyond just reacting to the crisis, we also need to make sure every community has a financial empowerment strategy built into its recovery and resilience plan.

4. Child Care

Child care is a business so many other businesses rely upon, and their already struggling business model has just been upended. Child care providers across the state need financial support to meet new health standards and adjust to the volatility in attendance. Child care provider stabilization grants should be allocated from CARES Act dollars. 

5. Paid Sick Leave

The American business model has grown up around minimum standards for employee benefit protections and insurances that are simply insufficient to meet our needs. Over the next year, we’ll continue to advance our campaigns for secure savings retirement accounts, paid family leave, and other proven innovations that create a more comprehensive and portable benefit system for workers. In the immediate term, however, a minimum guarantee of paid sick leave should be something we can all agree on.