Jimmy’s Colorado Politics Column | Polis robs Peter to pander to Paul

Written by on November 3, 2020

Six days before Election Day, as many Colorado voters were filling out their ballots, Gov. Jared Polis offered a Halloween treat.  He declared the state will give nearly 435,000 Coloradans a one-time payment of $375 cash to Coloradans who both filed for unemployment during the pandemic and earn less than $52,000 a year.  Payments are expected to go out on Dec. 4.

Upon his executive order, Polis contended that the failure of President Trump and Congress to approve another COVID-19 relief package prior to the election demands unilateral action on his part.Watch this video for more informationAd By SponsorSee More

“We simply can’t wait when families can’t make rent, can’t put food on the table, are worried about not getting their next paycheck,” Polis proclaimed. “So, Colorado can fill that gap, to at least help a bit with this one-time payment.”

While his declaration might seem warm and fuzzy, there are several reasons Polis ought to be ashamed of this cynical, pre-election ploy on his part.

First, let’s start with the obvious: The timing is politically charged.  A mere six days before an election in which Democrats are sure to do well in Colorado, the Democratic governor announces he’ll be sending checks out to Coloradans.  How convenient.

Second, Polis’s program is not just an extension of the existing unemployment offerings.  Instead, he’s created a new initiative out of whole cloth, yet again enthroning himself with legislative authority.  As I’ve written before, King Jared cannot legitimately give himself this kind of unilateral power of the purse in a constitutional republic like Colorado.

Third, while we are thankfully seeing some improvements in the fires ablaze across the state, our beautiful Colorado remains in a state of natural disaster.  Thus, it’s critical that we examine where this money is coming from.  Polis is financing this unilateral, new program using $168 million in unspent funds from the Disaster Emergency Fund (DEF). Taking money from disaster relief when we are facing down the two largest fires in Colorado history — a result of years of failed government forest management policy — to give a small sum of extra unemployment benefits seems ridiculous at best.

Yet the so-called “unspent DEF funds” are not really “unspent DEF funds,” anyway.  To finance his new project, Polis has transferred money to the DEF from other pots.  In particular, he’s pulled $5,347,017 from the Controlled Maintenance Trust Fund (largely for infrastructure purposes) and $148,900,000 from the General Fund via the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing Medical Services Premiums line item (mostly unspent Medicaid funds).

In short, Polis is transferring funds to the DEF from other programs, and instead of using the money for the kind of disaster such funds were intended, he is using it for an “economic stimulus” giveaway for a pandemic that was declared a disaster.  Meanwhile, state employees are left wondering where the additional disaster recovery money is and why they are being furloughed as Polis moves money around at election time.

As those receiving these payments would surely attest, $375 would definitely help.  But when you put that money together and consider its overall effects — especially being used to pay down debts and not to “stimulate” the economy — is it truly worth depriving the state of needed disaster relief money?  Is it really worth sacrificing the idea that the governor is limited in the power of the purse?

No, it is not.  This unilateral, pre-election giveaway is wrong on the most fundamental levels.  It’s bad policy and bad precedent for a governor to act on his own and refunnel money like this.  I criticized President Trump’s summer executive orders for very similar reasons.  Polis should not take it upon himself to act similarly.

A Facebook friend half-joked that, because Polis is taking jobs away through his egregious pandemic policies that are crushing businesses, he’s simply providing “just compensation for the unemployed” under the Takings Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  Maybe he has a half-serious point there: Polis is killing Coloradans’ jobs.  Even so, this isn’t the way to compensate for economic harm.

Click here to read the rest of Jimmy’s November 3 column at Colorado Politics, a sister publication of The Washington Examiner.

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