Amid slow economic recovery, Boulder set to pilot UBI; in the wake of tragedy, Council moves forward with gun legislation

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Guaranteed income by another name?

The city is moving forward with plans to give cash to low-income Boulderites, though how much, to whom and for how long are still TBD. 

City Council received more information on the guaranteed income pilot Tuesday night, after first discussing the proposal in February.

Most elected officials were enthusiastically supportive of the approach, which 40 cities across the U.S.—flush with federal COVID recovery cash—are pursuing. Boulder plans to spend $3 million of its $20 million American Rescue Plan Act funds on a pilot program.

It’s very difficult “to continually prove that you’re poor,” added Housing and Human Services Director Kurt Firnhaber, noting the time, complexity and “all the paperwork you need to
continually create.” 

“This is meant to be a new approach, where we don’t decide what is needed,” Firnhaber said. It’s “creating an opportunity for people to pick up the pieces when pieces fall apart, and make real advances in goals.” 

Research from similar programs in other cities (and from existing direct cash assistance to low-income families in Boulder County) show increased employment, improved mental and physical health, and reduced household stress.

The city won’t determine what success looks like, who should be eligible, how much money they will receive and for how long—a “citizen task force” will do that. 

Council members who are majority home-owning and relatively privileged should not be making those calls, said councilmember Nicole Speer. “It’s a place where we want to lean pretty heavily on the community to know what they need.”

Applications could open by December of this year, with payments beginning to flow in March 2023. 

Councilmember Bob Yates suggested renaming the program to avoid “community backlash” and to “lower expectations for people who will be receiving the temporary assistance.

“It’s not necessarily guaranteed, and it’s not necessarily income,” he said.

Boulder’s budget recovering, but still below pre-pandemic health

Sales tax—which funds the biggest chunk of city spending—was up 19% last year as people returned to restaurants, shops and (most importantly) travel. 

In fact, the only thing people are spending less on is groceries and weed, according to city sales tax data. 

Despite the strong recovery from 2020, revenue from sales tax is still below 2019 levels by about 4%. Parking and hotel taxes (which make up a smaller share of the budget) are still down 44% and 27%, respectively.

City coffers are expected to keep growing into 2023, but economists are keeping an eye on the war in Ukraine, as well as increasing inflation, which is growing faster in Colorado
than elsewhere.

Rich Wobbekind, CU economist, said, “The question is, does the economy really slow down, or does the economy go into a recession next year?”

The city will keep being “conservative” in its spending plans, staff said. The budget process for next year has already begun. Public engagement will begin with a Sept. 8 study session, with hearings and votes scheduled Oct. 6 and Oct. 20.

See you next, next Tuesday

Hours after news broke of a mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas (the latest numbers report 19 children and two teachers killed, with many others injured), City Council gave its first OK to a package of gun control laws.

The unanimous vote came with a tearful speech from councilmember Matt Benjamin, a gun owner. 

“I got this news while I was outside at Bear Creek Elementary while I was cheering on kindergarten students as they got to graduate,” including his son. “It is a normal that cannot continue to
be tolerated.

“I am a law-abiding gun owner in this community, and my right, my need, my want to have guns cannot supersede the lives of people who have been killed by guns. It can’t, and it won’t.”

A final vote and public hearing on the gun violence prevention ordinances is scheduled for June 7. Three hours have been allotted to allow community members to speak. 

The measures include:

• A 10-day waiting period to purchase guns

• Raising the age limit for purchase from 18 to 21

• The reinstated ban on assault weapons and high-
capacity magazines

• Prohibition on open carry (visible weapons on your person)

• Disallowing concealed carry in “sensitive areas” such as schools, churches, voting locations, public places, etc.

• A ban on guns without a serial number 

• Required signage in gun stores warning of the increased risk of homicide and suicide in homes
with firearms

There is no council meeting next week, May 31. 

Questions or comments? Contact editorial@boulderweekly.com

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