Apr 12, 2021 - News

Colorado puts equity at the forefront of the state budget

Illustration of measuring tape measuring a dollar bill

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

One word drew more attention this year as Colorado lawmakers crafted the $34.1 billion state budget: equity.

The new focus emerged in the months after George Floyd's May 2020 killing put race at the center of the conversation and huge demonstrations demanded action to address systemic discrimination.

Why it matters: The state spending package often targets programs for those in the most need, but this time discussion went further to reshape spending priorities in numerous state agencies.

  • "I think you'll see elements of equity throughout this budget," state Sen. Dominick Moreno, the chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, told John.

Details: The state Senate approved the annual spending package Friday with millions earmarked for new programs focused on racial and health equity. It goes to the House this week.

  • $4.8 million is set aside for legislation that creates a grant program that will disperse money to community organizations "to address root causes of health inequity."
  • An additional $1.1 million goes to the state's public health agency to conduct outreach to better include input from underrepresented communities in its decisions.
  • Financial aid to state universities and colleges is based in part on their population of minority students.
  • An amendment earmarked $160,000 to hire a new chief educational equity officer in the higher education system to help low-income students get degrees.

Context: Gov. Jared Polis' administration declared racism a public health crisis after facing pressure in the weeks after Floyd's death.

  • State Rep. Leslie Herod, the chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus and a budget writer, told Colorado Politics the money will help "make sure there was funding to do something about it."

The other side: The two Republican members of the budget committee voted against some of the initiatives. Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, said the spending represented policy changes that needed separate legislation rather than budget earmarks.

The big picture: The topic of equity will remain a buzzword when the Democratic-led General Assembly allocates the $3.9 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money in separate legislation later this year.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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