By Representative McLachlan
When we began this year’s legislative session, the task before us seemed daunting. Across the state and throughout my district, small businesses were devastated, hardworking families were struggling and the end of the pandemic was nowhere in sight.
My colleagues and I rolled up our sleeves and got to work. We knew identifying and facing the challenge would be the most important task ahead of us. Instead of seeing it as an insurmountable obstacle, we saw it as a golden opportunity.
We didn’t want to just help Colorado return to the place we were in before the pandemic hit; we were determined to help chart a better, bolder, more prosperous course for our state. The phrase has been repeated far too often, but we truly set out to help Colorado build back stronger.
The bulk of our work in this space was done through our state stimulus package, a series of legislation investing roughly $800 million into helping Colorado recover faster and in a more equitable way. The package contains bills, now signed into law, investing in workforce development, small business grants, child care expansions and programs to help our students close the learning gap created by COVID.
I’m proud of all of the work we did this session to help Colorado bounce back from this crisis, but there are a few bills that I think will have a particularly important impact on Southern Colorado and District 59.
In particular, I’m proud of the work we did that was specifically tailored to meet the needs of rural Colorado. We put $30 million toward the Agriculture Future Loan Program, which will provide new and existing agriculture operations with crucial funding and create jobs in this critically important industry.
We also funded the ACRE3 program, which invests in the long-term sustainability of the industry by encouraging more energy efficient agriculture operations to ensure that Colorado’s farmers and ranchers can continue to contribute so much to our state.
And to invest in the future of rural Colorado, we provided tens of millions of dollars for the Colorado Water Plan, which will help ensure Colorado has the water resources we need to foster a thriving economy. This was one of several steps we took related to drought resiliency, including a bill I sponsored to create an office in the Department of Agriculture to help the industry respond to and mitigate the impacts of climate change and increasingly severe droughts.
Other programs funded by our state stimulus package, like the Rural Jump Start Grant Program, the Rural Economic Development Initiative and the Community Revitalization Grant Program, will support local economies, create jobs and fund construction revitalization projects. They will make our communities more enjoyable for residents and more attractive for tourists, bringing needed business and economic activity to our part of the state.
We showcased and supported the needs of rural schools, added financial security for our veterans, supported the Colorado Department of Wildlife and funded wildfire prevention.
But, it’s clear to me that no amount of government programs can fill the void left by a job loss, so I’m also proud we provided robust funding for the Just Transition Program, which will support coal workers, employers and communities as they plan for the future closings of coal plants and mines upon which their communities depend. We also created a program to help small businesses needing a little capital boost before growing to the next level to create countless jobs.
It’s difficult to keep track of the amount of bills we passed and stimulus dollars we directed toward helping create an economy that leaves no one behind, but the Coloradans who benefit will remember them all. As we wrap up this legislative session, I can confidently say we both met the challenge presented by COVID and delivered results for our constituents.
Our bipartisan, Colorado-focused session will help us all build back stronger.