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Posted: January 14, 2010

Which way is up?

For Legislature - and the new Democratic candidate for governor -- it's all about jobs

Mike Cote

George Clooney got a couple of free plugs for his latest movie Tuesday from both sides of the political aisle. If there's one thing Republicans and Democrats can agree upon is the pain that comes from losing your job.

Even with Colorado's unemployment rate a few percentage points below the nation's double-digit tally, we're hardly immune from the funk that has stalled business and job creation. The state lost 100,000 jobs last year.

In "Up in the Air," Clooney plays a jet-bound envoy companies deploy to handle the uncomfortable task of laying off their workers. It's hardly the feel-good movie of the year, but the story rings true in 2010.

While Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper stood outside the steps of the Capitol to announce he was running for governor on the Democratic ticket, he alluded to the movie, recalling his days as an-out-work geologist.

"In the 1980s, when the oil industry went bust, we all had to adapt. And I became a businessman," Hickenlooper said with his wife, Helen Thorpe, just a few feet away and his 7-year-old son, Teddy, nearby. "I remember the day I got laid off. They had that guy like that movie's that out now; he came in and told each of us, one after another, that we were out of work."

Hickenlooper and his partners had few choices - so they decided to make beer. They opened the Wynkoop Brewing Co., the first of several restaurants they opened in Colorado.
"Through hard work and a fair amount of luck we helped create literally thousands of jobs," he said, noting the restaurants also helped jumpstart the LoDo area.

"With so many people in this state out of work or facing economic hardship, I believe as governor I can bring my experience in business and public service to the job of creating jobs," he said. "That is going to be my mission as Colorado's next governor."

Former Colorado congressman Rep. Scott McInnis and Evergreen businessman Dan Maes are vying for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

Legislative preview focuses on jobs

Earlier in the day, Republican Caucus Chair Rep. Amy Stephens referenced "Up in the Air" while voicing her opposition to a proposal to eliminate $132 million worth of business tax exemptions as part of Gov. Bill Ritter's plan to balance a budget. The state's $18 billion general fund budget is short $1.5 billion.

"You see the people who are getting laid off, and you see the reaction and the tears, and some people throwing chairs, a 50-something-year-old guy crying showing (Clooney's character) the two young kids, ‘Yeah, right. Your little package. What are you going to tell me to do?'" Stephens said during a legislative preview at the Westin Tabor sponsored by Greenberg Traurig.

"Folks, that is the situation in this state," the Monument legislator said. "I have a lot of people in my district where this is their situation. It's not fun. It's not pretty. So when we talk about balancing the budget and winners and losers, when businesses are hanging on a precarious line if they're going to stay open another year, I don't believe getting rid of the tax credits is the way to go."

Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll noted that the budget also calls for cutting $260 million from K-12 schools and that the business tax credits are part of an overall across-the-board round of deep cuts.

"I think this state can survive if we eliminate some tax exemptions and some tax credits for a short period of time," he said. "When we're in this situation I don't think anyone can come to the table and say, ‘Hold me harmless.'" At some point, everyone is going to have to make some type of sacrifice."

Despite the philosophical differences, both legislators share a common goal.

"People in this state do want us to create an environment where jobs can be created and we can maintain the jobs we have," Carroll said.

The four-member panel, moderated by Cynthia Hessin of Rocky Mountain PBS, also included Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont; and Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction.

Penry and Carroll are term-limited - so you might say they'll be out of a job when the session is over. (Penry and Carroll will talk about the opening of the session with Hessin at 7:30 p.m. Friday on Rocky Mountain PBS's "Colorado State of Mind.") (http://www.rmpbs.org/content/index.cfm/show/157394/Colorado-State-of-Mind)

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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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