Legislators are in the process of approving next year’s state budget. Here’s how the largest investments will affect Summit County
Public officials in Denver are poised to approve the state’s 2022-23 budget within the next couple of weeks, which means major investments are likely to make their way to Summit County soon.
Rep. Julie McCluskie — a Dillon Democrat who represents Summit County and District 61 in the state House of Representatives — serves as chair of the Joint Budget Committee. That committee drafts the state’s budget, which is then debated by the state legislative bodies, the House and Senate.
On Wednesday, March 30, McCluskie presented the budget, also known as the “Long Bill” due to its size, to her colleagues in the House, describing it as a “responsible, balanced budget” that invests in Colorado’s priorities and reflects the state’s values.
McCluskie told her fellow lawmakers in Denver that the budget aims to continue pandemic recovery that began with the 2021 budget. This year’s budget is larger by about $2 billion. The 2022 budget is also $6 billion more than the 2020 appropriations.
“After two incredibly painful and challenging years, the arrival of a global pandemic and the economic crisis that ensued, we are bringing Colorado back, and we are bringing it back strong,” McCluskie said.
This year’s committee has prioritized several aspects and departments of the state’s leadership. Here’s how some of the state’s biggest investments could affect Summit County.
Outdoor conservation and air quality
State leaders are looking specifically to include a hefty investment in tackling bad air quality in Colorado. Lawmakers plan to implement a more than 1,000% increase from the 2021-22 budget regarding air quality control spending. The Colorado Department of Public Heath and Environment will add 65 staff members thanks to the $43 million investment.
“Of this amount, $17.9 million will be used to increase air quality monitoring, establish an electric lawn equipment rebate program for public entities and replace old monitoring equipment; and $25.5 million is appropriated to the Stationary Sources Cash Fund,” the budget packet’s narrative states.
Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue said although commitments to improving air quality might bring urban areas to mind, Summit County residents could benefit from the state’s focus on the issue. Throughout last summer, Summit County residents faced poor air quality as a result of wildfires across the West.
“For those of us who live in communities that are in the wildland-urban interface, where wildfires are a significant concern, any work that the state is doing at any level on climate change is important to us,” Pogue said. “So while the funds may really be focused on improving air quality in urban Colorado, it does affect all of us.”
In the budget, there is also an increase of almost $6 million in cash funds to go toward conservation efforts across the state, which includes $3 million for the Parks and Outdoor Recreation Cash Fund and $2.9 million for the Wildlife Cash Fund. Most of the increase, $3.8 million, will support operating budgets for state parks and wildlife operations.
The budget bill will also allocate $750,000 for grants to regional coalitions to develop plans to balance outdoor recreation and wildlife. McCluskie said this, along with other aspects of the bill that would look to improve air quality in the state, makes “sure that we are taking care of the beautiful and pristine landscapes that we call Colorado’s home.”
During the Great Recession, the state of Colorado made the move to implement a state budget tool, called a budget stabilization or negative factor, that proportionally reduced the amount of total state funding for each school district. This means across the state, schools have relied heavily on local property taxes for funding. This year, legislators are poised to make a dent in that negative factor.
“We’re making investments in education unlike ever before. We’re investing $250 million to bring the budget stabilization factor down to $321 million,” McCluskie said during the legislative session Wednesday. “We’re ensuring that more dollars than in the past 10 years are flowing through to our schools, our classrooms, helping to pay teachers a living wage and providing for those small class sizes, the curriculum, the professional development and support that our students need to get on that successful path in life.”
Pogue added that although she’s thankful Congress is looking to tackle a large portion of the Budget Stabilization, she had hoped to see the state fully fund education.
“Unfortunately, this year, the budget stops just shy of that,” she said.
In rural communities across the state, emergency services, such as ambulances, have become increasingly expensive, and Summit County is no exception, Pogue said.
In the budget bill, the state is looking to offset some of the costs for providers. According to the bill’s narrative, over $29 million will be spent on emergency medical transport. Just over $21 million of that, or 71%, will come from federal funds.
“Typically rural ambulances, because of the miles that those providers have to drive where they are not typically reimbursed equitably, are significantly underfunded,” Pogue said. “That means that makes it much more difficult for them, the little ambulance providers, to provide high-quality services. So seeing the state increase those reimbursement levels helps in ways that we don’t always talk about or even notice. It’s incredibly important to the safety and well being of our community.”
As of Thursday, March 31, the state budget had passed its third reading in the House, receiving 41 ayes and 24 nos, with no amendments.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.
Now more than ever, your financial support is critical to help us keep our communities informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having on our residents and businesses. Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.
Your donation will be used exclusively to support quality, local journalism.