DENVER – Colorado Gov. Jared Polis issued a host of executive orders late Thursday night to slash hundreds of millions in spending by the state government, ban evictions and rental fees for May and extend the statewide closure of ski areas in response to COVID-19.
His orders came just hours before many of the state’s counties outside the Denver metro area moved to the next step in the “safer at home” phase – allowing retail businesses and personal services to reopen if they follow best practices.
“As the State continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become increasingly evident that the prolonged period of economic disruption associated with COVID-19 is causing precipitous and significant revenue shortfalls for the State,” the governor wrote in his executive order cutting $229 million in line item reductions to certain programs or departments.
The state’s revenue forecast is set to be released May 12 and is expected to show that spending will account for more than half of the general fund reserve, which kicks in a provision for the Office of State Planning and Budgeting (OSPB) to submit a plan to reduce spending to lawmakers.
“These are challenging times that force difficult financial decisions to maintain a balanced budget,” OSPB Director Lauren Larson wrote in a letter to lawmakers to which the governor’s executive order was attached.
She said further that the reduced spending plan would not jeopardize the state’s COVID-19 response and that the reductions only apply to the current fiscal year, though that declining revenues would “greatly reduce” the money available to the legislature and Joint Budget Committee when it comes to setting the budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.
Both Larson and Polis said they would update lawmakers if further cuts were needed. Larson wrote that the planned cuts do not include any mandatory layoffs or furloughs for state employees before July 1.
The bulk of the $228.7 million in cuts – $183 million – comes from Medicaid. But the Department of Corrections will lose $1.4 million to reimburse private contracted facilities who were housing prisoners and $550,000 for inmate drug screening, mental health treatment, medication management and other programs.
The Department of Public Safety will have money cut from the Safe2Tell program, the Colorado State Patrol and Colorado Bureau of Investigation, and more than $1 million for community corrections programs.
In total, 16 departments will see cuts, according to Polis’ order.
He said at a news briefing Friday that the Medicaid cuts come in part because not as many people are using Medicaid to seek health care for other issues not related to COVID-19 during the outbreak and that cutting around the edges in the 16 department was necessary belt tightening that everyone in the state and country is having to look at.
Orders bar evictions, extend ski closures, send money to nursing homes
Polis mentioned earlier this week that he would extend the prohibition of evictions into May and issued an order Thursday night doing so.
The order limits residential and commercial evictions, foreclosures and public utility disconnections for 30 days, which Polis wrote “will help protect the economic well-being of Colorado’s communities and businesses during the next month.”
The order directs several state departments to work with landlords to identify lawful measures to avoid removing or evicting tenants or mobile home owners without cause or “as a result of late or nonpayment of rent or minor tenancy violations” and to exempt them from fees or penalties for late rent payments or a lack of payment.
It directs the DPS to work with local law enforcement officials to suspend eviction activities “unless such actions are necessary to protect public health and safety.”
That would mean if a tenant “poses an imminent and serious threat to another individual or causes significant damage to property” that they could be evicted, according to the order.
The order also directs landlords to notify tenants of the federal protections afforded them against evictions and foreclosures under the CARES Act and for state departments to work with property owners to create model repayment agreements.
It also says that nothing in the order “shall be construed as relieving an individual from their obligation to make mortgage or rent payments.”
Polis said at a news briefing Friday that renters will still need to pay their rent, it will just be a question of when. He said landlords and tenants are and should be working out deals to spread any missed payments out through the remainder of the lease.
Another order Polis issued Thursday night directs the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing to direct additional money to nursing homes and congregate care facilities, which have been hardest-hit by COVID-19, “to provide services that result in better care and higher quality of life for their residents during the COVID-19 emergency.”
Polis also extended the closure of ski areas in Colorado until May 23 as several ski areas – including Wolf Creek and Arapahoe Basin – consider reopening and if it is a possibility. He said Friday that he's spoken with ski areas in recent days and that they were all developing criteria about how to safely reopen possibly for Memorial Day or June if there is enough snow. The best practices would only be implemented, and the closure lifted, if the safer at home data shows it's a safe possibility to reopen.
The governor’s late-night issuance of executive orders also included an extension for unaffiliated candidates to start collecting signatures, changes for notaries to notarize remotely and surrounding marriage licenses, expanding telehealth services and relaxing or suspending certain state statutes to give agencies more flexibility in their response to COVID-19.
The governor is expected to host a briefing at 1 p.m. Friday.