Colorado stimulus spending still a mystery |

Colorado stimulus spending still a mystery

Kristen Wyatt
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Confused about how much economic stimulus money is coming to Colorado and how it will be spent?

So are the people overseeing the $2 billion purse.

A group set up by Gov. Bill Ritter to oversee how state agencies spend stimulus money met for the first time Thursday, and the dozen-member board came up with few answers.

The group will act as auditor for how Colorado spends the money, but it won’t decide where stimulus dollars go. That responsibility largely is with the governor.

Instead, the oversight panel will meet over the coming months to make sure dollars are spent as intended and will try to give the public a way to see where their money went.

The job is huge. The board ” made up of state officials and business leaders ” isn’t even certain what its role will be. Will it help the public understand how the stimulus works? Assist small businesses that need help applying for funding? And how exactly is it to make sure every penny is spent wisely?

“We’re going to be chasing a dog that’s running fairly rapidly,” conceded Don Elliman, Colorado’s economic development director and chairman of the oversight board, appointed by Ritter.

Billed as an organizational meeting, Thursday’s huddle was less of a strategy session than it was a chance for board members to launch questions about what they are to do.

Elliman said the board’s twin goals are to make certain state agencies spend the money coming their way as intended by Congress, and to help the public understand how the money is being spent.

But the seemingly simple mission comes with endless questions. Who will decide how many jobs are created? How fast will be money be spent? And what about federal spending in Colorado over which the state has no control, such as a Department of Defense project at a base located here?

“We should go through this thing bucket by bucket ” and this thing has more buckets than ornaments on the Rockefeller Christmas tree,” Elliman said.

Already some of the deepest buckets are headed this way. The Colorado Department of Transportation, for example, expects to start asking for bids next week on some of the $404 million worth of highway and road projects coming this direction. An additional $830 million for Medicaid could be in Colorado’s pocketbook within days.

Making sure the money is spent as soon as possible ” while setting up proper controls to make sure none of it is wasted ” poses an enormous dilemma.

“There isn’t a state in the country that doesn’t have all the same questions we do,” said Jim Carpenter, Ritter’s chief of staff.

Elliman said it’s not been decided even how often the board will meet or how it will relay its findings to Ritter. Colorado is one of a handful of states where governors have broad discretion to spend federal dollars without oversight, so the accountability board he set up for stimulus money still has to write its own rules.

Ritter did not attend the meeting, but on Wednesday he pleaded for patience to a group of mayors gathered in Denver for a conference. The governor acknowledged he has plenty of questions himself about stimulus money ” but he stressed that oversight of the spending is a top priority. President Barack Obama made that clear in person to the governors, Ritter said.

“He said, ‘Look, if you do this badly, we’re going to call you out,'” Ritter said, talking about weekend meetings he attended in Washington.

The public has the same standard as the president, Ritter said.

“It’s really important for us to do this and ensure that the money goes where it’s intended to go,” he said.

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