Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock – and given this year that would be totally acceptable behavior – you already know that we’ve been enduring the Presidential election that will not end. Monday, December 14th, however, the electors, in anti-climactic, not made for television viewing, cast their votes and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris officially became the President- and Vice-President-elect. While the current President still claim massive fraud and refuses to concede, but after losing 59 out of 60 court cases, including rejection of two cases by the U.S. Supreme Court, most of the country is moving on. Because that’s how we roll in a democracy.
Thus far, President-elect Biden has largely put forward known quantities with long track records and experience for his Cabinet picks. The Department of Agriculture is no exception. Biden has announced he intends to nominate Tom Vilsack as the Secretary of Agriculture. If his name sounds familiar, it’s because he was in this same position from 2009-2017, the bulk of President Obama’s two terms. His nomination has been met with mixed reaction and it remains to be seen if he’ll run the department as he did previously, or if he applies a little more of a progressive bent to his stewardship.
Of course, despite the way it seems, the President wasn’t the only race on the ballot. To just bottom line this, the Democratic Party retained control of the U.S. House of Representatives, but with a much smaller margin. With 218 seats needed for a majority, the Democrats have 222 seats, the Republicans have 211 seats and 2 seats haven’t yet been called. Currently, this is a net loss of 9 seats for the Democrats. Also, as of right now, the Senate majority hangs in the balance. The Republicans have 50 seats, the Democrats have 46 seats, and two Independents caucus with the Democrats for a total of 48. That total represents a one seat pickup for the Dems in which Colorado played a part by electing John Hickenlooper (D) over incumbent Senator Cory Gardner (R). The two remaining seats that will determine the Senate majority are both in Georgia and will be decided in a runoff election on Tuesday, January 5th. If the Republicans with either seat, they retain the majority by a slim margin. If the Democrats win both seats, they become the majority as VP Kamala Harris would have the tie-breaking vote. Either way, with the House and the Senate so close, Congress must remember what compromise looks like or we will remain in the ridiculous gridlock that has gripped Congress for the past decade or so.
COVID Relief Funding
After literally months of doing nothing about another round of COVID relief while the House passed HEROS Act sat on the Senate Majority Leader’s desk – a bi-partisan group of senators has put forth a package that is gaining steam. Currently, with the package still under negotiation, it looks like though it might end up around $900B and include another round of direct stimulus payments ($600-$700), an additional unemployment benefit, aid for small businesses, help for schools, and other items. At this point it appears the negotiators have dropped liability protections for business and funding for state and local governments, the two most controversial items. The relief package will most likely be tied to an omnibus funding bill that has to pass by Friday night. Keep your fingers crossed.
Upcoming Colorado Legislative Session with Bonus Special Session Coverage
Shortly after the election, Governor Jared Polis called the legislature into a special session for the purpose of COVID relief funding. The special session, which ran three days from November 30 through December 2nd, determined how to spend excess CARES Act dollars, as well as unexpected additional
revenue the state accrued in 2020 after cutting deeply to address the economic consequences of the pandemic. They couldn’t wait for the regular legislative session as any CARES Act money has to be spent by December 30, 2021 (prior to the start of the regular session) and excess state revenue has to be spent by June 30, 2021. During the special session, legislators introduced 36 bills, or which 10 passed. Not coincidentally, the 10 that passed matched the Governor’s “call” – what the Governor issues to “call” the legislature back into session that also creates the parameters and limitations for the special session. The bills that passed were also bi-partisan and allocated over $300 million in COVID relief spending. Among the funded items was an additional $5 million for the Food Pantry Assistance Grant – because this was funded with excess revenue dollars, the food has to be purchased and distributed by June 30 – which shouldn’t be an issue given the overwhelming demand for food pantry services during this crisis. Other funding went to affordable housing assistance ($54M, including $5M for previously ineligible individuals and $1M into an eviction relief legal fund) and energy assistance ($5M). The rest of the bills provide funding to assist childcare operators, school broadband, and the arts. Finally, they legislature also allowed specified businesses to utilize a temporary state sales tax deduction.
From the special session, the legislature will move into their next regular session beginning January 13th, 2021. Right now, the rumors are flying regarding how they’ll handle the session, so we’ll just wait and see what happens. Smart money has them convening, doing some work, and then adjourning until the anticipated post-holiday virus surge (expected to begin in mid-January) abates. But we shall see. What we do know, is that the budget will again dominate the legislative landscape. Joint Budget Committee members are already at work putting together a budget, but the December and March revenue estimates will tell the tale of what that budget will ultimately look like. Regardless, we will be back in the legislative game working again to add $300,000 to the Healthy Food Incentive Fund. We created this fund in 2018 to help fund the Double Up Food Bucks program while also creating the Produce Box program. We are seeking to expand both programs for the benefit of producers, consumers, and local economies. We will update you on this effort, as well as other issues of interest, as the session moves along.