And now, a few words from our lawmakers…
The legislative leaders of the Colorado House of Representatives and the Senate opened the session with speeches to their respective chambers. Here are excerpts from their addresses that center on the concern of the Colorado Association of Commerce & Industry and other business organizations: economic recovery and the retention and creation of private sector jobs for Colorado's citizens.
Senate President Brandon Shaffer (D-Longmont)
Colorado's economy has fared better than some. Our unemployment rate is 8.6 percent, almost a full point below the national average of 9.4 percent.
However, these numbers have little meaning to the 229,900 people in our state who are looking for jobs, but are still without work.
And that's why this Legislature will make the tough choices necessary to put Coloradans back to work, create jobs and expand our economy.
During each of the past three years, Democrats and Republicans alike have emphasized economic development and job growth as the cornerstone of their legislative agendas. We have both brought forward proposals that have helped in this regard. For example:
In 2008 we assessed the needs for statewide broadband access laying the foundation for a $100 million federal grant to create an affordable, statewide broadband network that will provide under-served schools, libraries, colleges and communities with high-speed Internet access.
In 2009 we created the Job Growth Incentive Fund to provide a credit on payroll taxes for businesses that create new jobs in Colorado; since then, companies like DaVita, RePower USA, and the Sierra Nevada Corp. have located their businesses here, bringing hundreds of new jobs with them.
And in 2010 we put the capstone on the New Energy Economy by increasing the state's renewable energy standard and passing the Clean Air Clean Jobs Act; further emphasizing our commitment to technology and innovation, and creating an atmosphere where public-private partnerships - such as the one between NASA and the Colorado Association for Manufacturing and Technology - can thrive.
Because of these proposals and others like them, Colorado is currently rated by Forbes.com as the fourth best state for fostering economic growth; CNBC ranked Colorado the third best state for business; and the American Legislative Exchange Council says Colorado's economic outlook is second best of all 50 states.
While these are encouraging signs, everyone is frustrated by how slowly the economy is turning around. It can be compared to turning an aircraft carrier - it's a big ship and it takes a while to maneuver.
As a former Surface Warfare Officer, I can attest to that. It can take miles to turn a slow moving aircraft carrier. But that only tells part of the story: before you start the turn, you must first secure each aircraft aboard. A modern carrier may carry 80 planes, and just one F/A-18 Super Hornet costs taxpayers $57 million, so you better get it right. The time, care and preparation taken before throwing the rudder over is more important, more difficult and more time consuming than the actual maneuver itself.
The same is true of our economy. Our recovery will take time, and will require advance care and preparation.
Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp (R-Littleton)
So what mountains must we climb, and how do Senate Republicans propose to do it? First, we must reignite economic growth in Colorado.
Republicans are interested in taking bold and constructive leadership in rebuilding and supercharging our state's economy. We must create an atmosphere where businesses of all kind, not just a favored few, are made welcome by government at all levels.
For Republicans, this means above all, that Colorado's government must build a low tax policy framework. Getting there will require some teamwork from both sides of the aisle. We ask for you and your caucus, Mr. President, to join us in a conversation about ways that we can begin the reinstating the critical tax incentives that were eliminated just last year. These have cost jobs and caused companies to leave the state, and we ask for your help in reversing this trend.
And we ask our Democratic colleagues to re-engage our shared interest in eliminating the onerous business personal property tax. Let's move from interest to action in this legislative session. And let's go a step further still by considering other ways that we might promote a low tax and fee policy.
Finally, on the subject of taxation, I would make a final request in most direct terms. Please join us in keeping whole the taxpayer protections in the Constitution. Colorado citizens rightly demand that they have the right to vote on tax increases. We must end the marginalization of this right. And practically, we should recognize that the restraint that the Taxpayer Bill of Rights has brought to government spending has served to forestall even more serious budgeting problems.
I believe that taking these bold steps would send a clear signal to that Colorado businessman or woman out there, that making that capital investment, and hiring that additional employee, just might make sense again.
Let us also join forces to reform our regulatory systems. Let us lead the state in achieving focused and far-reaching reform of any outdated, overly complicated and costly business regulations and rules. Let's commit to abolishing any incentive that regulators may have to exact heavy penalties. For Republicans, we have set the goal of achieving a 15% reduction in the compliance costs borne by regulated businesses in our state.
Members of the Republican caucus have already been working directly with regulated businesses across the state. We ask Senate Democrats as well as Governor Hickenlooper to do this economy-stimulating work with us. There is more than enough to go around. The work we have done, can become the senate's work, not just the Republicans. Let's do this together and next year at this time, we can celebrate our shared successes, measured in Colorado job growth.
And let us also commit to the job creators in Colorado that we aim to not just build, but to sustain a lean, predictable, and stable regulatory environment. Let ours become the envy of the nation and a ray of opportunity even in difficult times.
House Speaker Frank McNulty (R-Highlands Ranch)
Over the past few years, all of us have tightened our belts and done more with less. Our State's unemployment rate is the highest it's been in decades. Colorado's small businesses continue to fight for survival, and many working families are struggling to put food on the table and to pay their bills. And, while there is no exact formula for what is needed to create an environment that fosters job creation and economic recovery, there are a few simple truths that voters have asked us to reestablish.
An education program that is funded, flexible and accountable; a transportation system that moves people, goods, and services, safely and efficiently throughout Colorado; tax rates that are low and fair; and a regulatory system that is stable and sensible with an eye toward compliance and consumer protection, not punishment. For us all, job creation and economic recovery must be our focus with all proposed legislation.
Undoubtedly, we will have our differences from time to time. We are elected leaders after all. But these philosophical disagreements should not distract us from the important challenges at hand. There is far too much at stake. Now is the time for new solutions to combat our economic recession. This body needs innovative ideas to help Coloradans get back to work.
Colleagues, we must challenge ourselves to do what we can to spur innovation and entrepreneurship in our state. We must recognize that Colorado's private sector can, and should, play a remarkable role during the next decade in aerospace, technology, tourism, agriculture, natural resources and perhaps most exciting, bioscience, which is one of the fastest growing industries in Colorado, growing at a rate faster than the national average. Let's recognize that economic development is as important in Craig or Lamar as it is in Denver or Grand Junction.
There is no question that Colorado is a great place to live. The beautiful scenery from all four corners of our state is second to none. Colorado's economy can thrive off of tourism. The more skiers, hikers, rafters, bikers, and sightseers we can attract to Colorado, the better our economy will perform.
House Minority Leader Sal Pace (D-Pueblo)
Although Colorado's budget remains a top concern, of even greater importance is providing a foundation for economic recovery.
Colorado has a much-deserved reputation for being one of the best places in the United States to live, work and raise a family. Thanks to hard work inside and outside this building, Colorado has been rated consistently among the top states for business.
But that didn't happen by accident. It took careful planning, a commitment to creating livable and affordable communities, and a dedication to developing an environment suitable for attracting companies and jobs, and starting and growing promising new businesses.
From our world-class ski resorts, to the burgeoning clean tech companies hatched in cutting-edge Colorado labs, to traditional industries such as mining and Pueblo steel production, to the fast-growing New Energy sector, our state fosters innovation and values entrepreneurship.
And small business is the beating heart of our economy: some 82 percent of Colorado's businesses have fewer than 50 employees.
That is why it is critical that we continue to spur innovation and foster free markets, so that great ideas are transformed into great companies and ultimately, into great jobs for Colorado's workers.
So in the coming weeks we will be rolling out the Colorado Joint Opportunity for Business Support Program. The Colorado JOBS Act will provide entrepreneurs with the resources, counseling, and access to credit they need to see their small businesses succeed, and to help midsize companies grow across Colorado.
That's also why we are supporting legislation to attract new private investments and capital to Colorado in support of our most promising companies.
Because as those small businesses grow, we want to make sure they do so right here in Colorado, instead of relocating to Cambridge, Massachusetts, Silicon Valley or overseas.