Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace is proud of the program he helped create to send more kids to college.
It’s called the Pueblo County Scholarship Fund, and it’s fueled by a tax on retail marijuana in the county. Passed by Pueblo County voters in November 2015, it went into effect two months later and the excise tax will provide $420,000 in scholarships for 210 high school graduates from Pueblo County to attend either Pueblo Community College or Colorado State University-Pueblo in the fall.
The $2,000 scholarships are renewable each year for four years, and will be administered by the Pueblo Hispanic Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization that uses fundraising to help provide college scholarships for students of all races.
“I wanted 100 percent of [the tax] to go for scholarships,” Pace said, “but we settled on a minimum of 50 percent.”
The program got a kick-start in 2016 when 23 students were provided $2,000 scholarships due to an excess in excise tax.
Pace, a commissioner since 2013, also served two terms in the Colorado House of Representatives, District 46-Pueblo. He was Minority Leader in the House.
Still, Pace said the scholarship program is perhaps his finest accomplishment.
““It’s the type of thing when you start a career in government, you dream of getting something meaningful done,” he said. “This sort of thing can have lasting impact for generations.
“I’ve had a number of students say they wouldn’t have gone to college if they hadn’t gotten the scholarship. If there’s a couple of kids who go to college that wouldn’t have, that means we’re changing their lives, maybe changing generations of lives after them.
“Plus, it helps sustain our colleges and universities.”
The 2017 Pueblo County Scholarship Fund consists of $369,000 from marijuana excise tax revenue and $51,000 in grant-matching funds from the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative.
Pueblo County’s excise tax on all marijuana grown in the county began at one percent in 2016 and increased to two percent in 2017. It is scheduled to increase one percent each year until it reaches a maximum of five percent.
Pace, however, said for the first time publicly that he is considering proposing a change.
“I might try to stop the increase at two-and-a-half or three percent,” he said. “The goal is not to have the highest excise tax; it’s to do the most with our excise tax.”
Pace said the tax revenue is likely to grow with large Denver retail grow businesses contemplating a move to Pueblo.
Pace, who said he supports the end of prohibition of marijuana, said that sending more kids to college could have a major impact on Pueblo.
“It’s an issue of reversing the generational poverty that’s existed in Pueblo,” he said. “We also know there’s a significant brain drain. I also believe a successful thriving community needs Millennials.
“I’d like to see the population of the university grow, which is also why I pushed for the research of cannabis on campus. It’s the first university in the country that has an institute of cannabis research.”
Editor’s note: Read an in-depth story about the Pueblo County Scholarship Fund in the June 16 edition of the Colorado Springs Business Journal.