As I begin my 11th year in the Colorado General Assembly and look forward to 2021, I wonder what to expect.
After 2020, the only thing certain is uncertainty. Last year started out as any other, then along came the coronavirus, or what is now referred to as COVID-19. We went into recess and worked from home along with most state agencies and much of the private sector.
When we returned, a 25% reduction in revenues had led to a $3.3 billion-dollar shortfall. This resulted in massive cuts and programs lost funding. The federal government provided stimulus funds to help the state. Due to the fact the General Assembly was not in session, these funds were allocated by the governor, who was operating under emergency executive orders. I, along with most elected officials from rural Colorado, felt that we were underfunded in comparison to the five big counties with populations of 500,000 or more that received direct disbursement from the federal government.
On Nov. 30 we returned to a special session called by the governor to fund some bills to help alleviate special needs. We were able to do this because revenue was much better than projected. The latest projections show the state will have as much as a $3.8 billion-dollar surplus. This equates to about 500 million more than the bottom line of the governor’s projected budget.
The question is the uncertainty of the effect of the COVID-19 vaccines and how fast small business can get back to work. In Senate District 6, the question is how tourism and restaurants especially are going to survive with reduced revenues. The jury is still out on this as to how it will affect different counties and municipalities.
I have a great deal of concern for the harm we are causing our children by not providing classroom instruction to students. What is the long term impact for these students? These are unprecedented times and no one really has an answer. Should this situation continue for another year as some project, we must devote the resources to expanding broadband and other technology to address these needs.
Health care will always be of concern and it seems uncertain whether our hospitals and medical staff have the resources to survive another year of unpredictable revenue. Will the COVID-19 vaccine be as successful as promised?
Coming from an agricultural and natural resource background, I feel that the prospects for 2021 are most concerning. Almost everything we consume is trucked in and everything we produce is trucked out. Production costs are climbing faster than market prices. Annual snowpack is well below average. We have survived worse years, but reservoir storage is lower than during some of those dry years. Those who provide the food we consume need our full attention.
Severance tax from the oil and gas industry has been basically our only source of funding for our water projects. With the severe decline in oil and gas production, that revenue – at one time $400 million, now about $100 million – will continue to decline in the foreseeable future. It is time that we have the conversation about providing sustainable funding for Colorado’s water future. Western Colorado is in the crosshairs of the lower basin states as well as Front Range interests.
You cannot travel anywhere in our mountain region without witnessing the devastation of our forests. Sixty years of mismanagement have taken their toll. Our forest is our largest reservoir and water quality is dependent on a healthy forest. Record fires occurred in 2020. A season of poor air quality as never seen before occurred in 2020 as well, and conditions are ripe for even worse calamities in 2021. More resources and manpower to handle these challenges must be addressed in 2021. I do not believe the Department of Public Safety has taken advantage of technology to reduce the devastation that last summer brought. Enough is not being done to prepare for what could be even more severe situations.
I believe that 2021 will be the most difficult year in decades to manage a budget that meets the needs of our state.
Second verse is the same as the first: uncertainty is certain. Wish us luck.
Sen. Don Coram is a Republican representing District 6 of the Colorado General Assembly.