Kelly Sloan, The Business Times
The legislative session under way in Denver brings with it a new majority in the State Senate as well as some new faces from Mesa County.
But many of the priorities for local lawmakers remain the same in more jobs and an improved economy along with less government regulation.
“We know that we as government can’t create jobs. But we can create the atmosphere to enable private sector job creators to do so,” said Ray Scott, the newly elected state senator from District 7.
Scott joins an 18-17 Republican majority in the State Senate, the first in more than a decade.
Democrats retain control of the Colorado House of Representatives, albeit by a smaller margin, as well as the governor’s office.
Scott returns to Denver as Mesa County’s senior statesman, having won his election to the Senate after two terms as a representative from House District 55. Dan Thurlow, also a Republican. takes over from Scott in that district. Yeulin Willet, a Republican as well, serves as representative from House District 54.
Scott said there was “definitely a different atmosphere” at the Legislature compared to previous sessions in which Democrats controlled both chambers. “We now have the ability to stop bad legislation” he said.
Sen. Scott said his priorities for the session haven’t changed from past years — jobs and the economy.
Scott said he wants to work with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on a proposal to move the maintenance facilities for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department from Denver to Grand Junction. “This can be done by the governor through an executive order, without needing legislative approval,” Scott said.
The move wouldn’t cost anything, Scott said, because the property currently used for CPW facilities in Denver would sell for twice as much as what a new location could be purchased in Grand Junction. But the move would bring 200 jobs to the Grand Valley and up to 1,200 spin-off jobs, Scott added.
Freshman legislators Willett and Thurlow said they’re still learning the ropes, but also know what they hope to accomplish.
“My initial plan is to absorb the main aspects of the job and make the relationships I need to be effective,” Willett said. “With all the needs of our district and a two-year term, I have to be pretty aggressive in learning the ropes.”
Thurlow said his legislative priorities remain the same as those upon which he campaigned. “They fit two general baskets: first, making government better and more efficient, and, second, dialing back some of the regulations and taxes on business.”
Thurlow said wants to allow businesses to be more productive and create jobs. “We need to see fewer resources going to government and let business owners create jobs and material wealth. We need to get government out of the way and let producers produce.”
One measure Thurlow sponsors that he believes will help accomplish that aim is to modify homeowners association licensing requirements, amending provisions of a law enacted two years ago that requires HOA managers to be licensed. “The bill was so broad that, for example, if an HOA manager hires a part-time accountant to handle the books, that person would need to be licensed as well.” Thurlow said the licensing process includes a $300 test and assorted fees. “People will either not want to do it, or if they do, they need to charge more for their services, which in turn drives up HOA fees.”
Thurlow acknowledged that repeal of the law was unlikely given the Democratic majority in the House, but said he felt he could get the support needed to modify it and remove some of what he sees as the more restrictive components. “We don’t need the government to protect us from everything.”
Willett said he’s sponsoring measures he believes will help the state economy, including one which he describes as a “sophisticated economic development bill,” that will use more informative data sets to help better identify economically depressed areas around the state.
“Unemployment numbers alone don’t tell us the whole story,” Willett said. “We need to use more sophisticated data to develop good metrics to identify areas of the state that need a boost through expanded enterprise zones, severance tax reimbursements and other measures.”
Other business-related issues that were brought up involve energy and amendments to the business personal property tax.
A state task force charged with addressing land use conflicts related to energy development is scheduled to complete its efforts by the end of February. But Scott said he doesn’t expect much to come of it — and hopes it won’t, in fact. “Oil and gas regulations have continually changed and expanded in the last few years, the best thing now is to lay off for a while.”
Willett pointed to a recent study that quantified the economic impacts to Colorado of a 2,000-foot setback for oil and gas drilling and production facilities as recommended by environmental groups and proponents of last year’s ballot measures that were pulled as part of the agreement that resulted in the establishment of the task force. “The local economy rests on drilling and energy production,” Willett said, adding that Grand Junction residents should closely watch any energy related legislation.
Both Scott and Willett also referred to the recently passed mandates requiring that 30 percent of electrical production in the state come from renewable energy sources and vowed to work on modifying them. Scott said he will run a bill in the Senate similar to one he ran last year in the House to roll back the mandates, adding “30 percent is just too high.”
“Many people are having a hard time paying their rent and their utility costs are going higher and higher,” Scott said.
Thurlow said another business-related reform he would propose is an extension of the business personal property tax exemption from $15,000 to $25,000. “This will be a start to help small business,” he said.
While members of the Mesa County delegation said they don’t expect the first-day spirit of bipartisanship to last long, they see an advantage to a split Legislature. “The split may be a good thing,” Thurlow said. “There is no opportunity for the fringe on either side to get traction. That might make everyone get together a bit easier on important issues.”
Scott said the election in November proved that voters were unhappy with the partisan excess he believes was demonstrated by previous Democratic majorities. “The voter’s sent a loud message — extremism won’t play. They want rationality.”
Asked how he and his fellow Republicans in the Senate would relate to the Democratic minority, Scott said, “They will get the same courtesy we got in the last two years.”