(CBS4) – Call it Christmas in July: Gov. Jared Polis wants to issue checks to every Colorado taxpayer over the next few months. Individuals would receive $400 each, and couples would get $800.
The refunds are required under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights or TABOR but weren’t set to go out until next year.
In an exclusive television interview with CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd, the governor said, if the legislature passes a bill, he’ll put the checks in the mail this summer.
“Just get it out to people quickly,” Polis said, “No reason the government should sit on your money for 9 or 10 months.”
The governor says between $4/gallon gas and 40-year high inflation, many Coloradans are struggling to make ends meet and the state, he says, can and should help.
“The state is in the best fiscal shape that we’ve ever been in,” Polis said.
The governor says Colorado has recovered more jobs than it lost during the pandemic, and our economy is so strong, revenue will exceed what the state’s allowed to spend under TABOR by about $1.4 billion. The legislature has to either issue a refund or ask voters to keep the money.
Polis says give it back, and sooner rather than later.
“Rather than sit on it or dawdle it away, special projects, just get it back out to people because people are facing rising prices, and anything we can do to save people money, to help people fight inflation, we ought to do.”
State economists project budget surpluses over the next three years, but they also warn the economic outlook is subject to variables, including inflation, the war in Ukraine, and supply chain disruptions. Polis says that volatility was factored into the budget.
“We also, Shaun, have very high-record reserve levels. The state has never seen the reserve we have.”
Fifteen percent of the state’s budget, about $2 billion, is in the state’s rainy day fund. That’s about double what it was before the pandemic.
Polis says the state is more prepared than ever and, he says, Coloradans need help now, “Peak inflation for a lot of projections we’re seeing is now, but you’re right, no one knows about next year, but this like 7%, 8%, 9% this year.”
This year is also an election year. Polis dismissed the notion that politics played any role in the timing.
“That’s absurd, and I expect this to have strong support on both sides of aisle. You can’t use an election as an excuse… to have government just sit on money for 9-10 months and not give back to people. It just doesn’t doesn’t make sense to anybody. That’s a very cynical approach, so the quicker we can get it out the better.”
The budget for the upcoming fiscal year is $36 billion, which is $2 billion more than last year’s. That doesn’t include billions of dollars in one-time federal stimulus funds that helped backfill losses incurred during the pandemic.
Even before Polis’s announcement about early refunds, Republicans accused him of election-year pandering after he delayed millions of dollars in new fees, including a gas fee, until next year. The fees were set to kick in this year as part of a transportation funding bill that the Gov. Polis signed into law last year.
CBS4 spoke with House Minority Leader Hugh McKean, who is the top Republican in the House.
He said he is pleasantly surprised by the governor’s announcement.
“We finally have unanimous Democrat support of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which is like three decades old and means that you get to keep more of the money you earn. It’s something Republicans fiercely protect, have fiercely protected for 30 years, and it’s really, really great to hear that they are fully on board with Colorado taxpayers keeping their own money.”
McKean says, if the governor and democratic legislature really want to save Coloradans money, they would get rid of millions of dollars in new fees that they passed last year as part of a transportation funding bill. The fees were set to take effect this year, but Democrats are delaying implementation of them.
McKean says, “All it means is Coloradans are broke a year or two from now, and when we really truly have a chance to shrink what we’re doing to be more efficient as a government in this moment of inflation which has everybody’s costs going up, we should take that opportunity.”