Legislative actions sometimes a riddle

It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was referring to Russia in his famous quotation from 1939. But if he were still alive, Churchill just as well could have been talking about the Colorado Legislature.

It’s a riddle state lawmakers enact some measures to recruit businesses and promote economic development even as they reject other measures that would make the business environment even friendlier.

The latest case in point involves a measure dubbed the Jumpstart Rural Colorado bill that establishes tax-friendly zones in economically distressed areas of the state, like Mesa County. The measure is designed to bring more businesses to challenged areas by offering qualifying businesses the substantial incentive of exemptions from taxes and fees.

Without getting into too much into the merits or potential problems associated with using tax incentives to promote economic development, here’s the point for the day: Why weren’t other pro-business measures that offer more sensible solutions to pressing business problems also enacted during the latest legislative session?

A prime example were proposed measures offering the prospect of regulatory reform to small businesses. The measures would have reduced penalties to small businesses found to have committed minor, often administrative violations, of state regulations and shifted the focus from enforcement to compliance assistance. The measures didn’t involve regulations ensuring the health, safety or welfare of the public or employees. Rather, they were was designed for what are often bookkeeping errors and to prevent what are often “gotcha” situations for government agencies.

Two versions of the legislation were introduced in the Legislature, but both were killed. Go figure.

If state lawmakers really want to promote economic development in the state, they can do so by offering lower taxes across the board rather than going through the gymnastics of offering tax incentives to this individual business in that particular location. Low and certain tax rates are like a policy tide that lifts all boats — along with the people in them.

At the same time, state lawmakers also can promote economic development by making life easier for the small businesses that collectively constitute big business in Colorado.

There’s nothing mysterious about that.