Skip to main content

State Budget: A Reflection of Why State Workers Matter

May 2, 2023

Yesterday, Governor Polis signed the state budget for Fiscal Year 2023-2024 into law. It is one of the single largest investments in Colorado public services in living memory.

As Executive Director of Colorado WINS, the union representing more than 24,000 state employees, I’ve seen firsthand how passionate and hard working Colorado employees are. That’s why I’m proud to announce that yesterday, Governor Polis signed the state budget for Fiscal Year 2023-2024 into law. It is one of the single largest investments in Colorado public services in living memory.

Why is Colorado investing now?

It’s simple: if we continue to under-invest in basic public services, and leave critical public agencies to operate at a fraction of their normal capacity, we can no longer expect the same quality of life in Colorado. Supports, services, and important resources may not be accessible or available at all when we hit bumps in the road, serious crises like the COVID pandemic, or even as we go through our everyday lives that are made better by sometimes invisible public service infrastructure

Thankfully, there are solutions. We must sustainably fund our state – yes, I’m talking about taxes – and ensure our state lawmakers prioritize and invest in our public agencies and the workers that make them run. Our union’s updated contract with the State of Colorado includes a variety of provisions that will boost the state’s ability to attract and retain vital state employees; from Nurses, to Teachers, to Corrections Officers. Now our contract is fully funded, we can finally start to address the staffing crisis that has plagued our state and caused Colorado’s foundation to crumble.

For 2023, our Partnership Agreement with the State of Colorado contains:

When we invest in state workers, we ensure they can keep performing essential duties that protect our communities and keep our state running. Cutting funding for state services only costs Colorado families in the long run.

Why do Coloradans need this investment?

Unfortunately for all Coloradans, decades of under-investment in critical state agencies and the workers who keep them running is catching up to us, revealing cracks in Colorado’s foundation that threaten our health, safety, and quality of life. Low wages and a serious lack of funding to recruit and retain employees has resulted in staffing shortages across state departments that are essential for keeping Colorado running.

Many of the state agencies that provide support for some of the most at-risk populations in our state are severely understaffed.

According to figures provided to Colorado WINS in December via a Colorado Open Records Act request, the Colorado Department of Military and Veterans Affairs has a vacancy rate of 63%. That means Coloradans who have bravely served our country are having a harder time accessing their benefits, applying for various forms of assistance, and getting connected with important resources.

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, which has a 21% vacancy rate, is also badly under-resourced and continues to grapple with a backlog of unemployment claims that was exacerbated by the pandemic. According to a recent 9News story, Colorado is the slowest state in the nation at paying unemployment benefits, threatening the livelihoods of Colorado families and their ability to pay rent, feed their families, and get medical care.

The Colorado Department of Transportation is yet another public agency that is understaffed and underfunded. Many of us have witnessed this firsthand this winter as our neighborhood streets and rural back roads remained dangerously icy, and in some cases impassable, following a season of heavy snows.

Despite the many challenges they face, state workers love their jobs and they’re proud to go to work every day to serve their communities and keep Coloradans healthy and safe. Many of them served on the front lines during the pandemic; treating patients in care centers, working to track the virus, and connecting struggling families with supports and services that helped them stay afloat during a time of crisis.