Sausage making in review: The good, bad and ugly

It’s been said nobody’s life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session. That’s not entirely facetious here in Colorado given the sausage making that sometimes occurs under the golden dome in Denver.

Still, no less an expert critic than Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper proclaimed the latest legislative session as one of the most productive in recent years thanks in large part to — gasp — an outbreak of bipartisan compromise.

How did the small businesses that employ most Coloradans fare this year? Not bad, according to the National Federation of Independent Business, a small business advocacy group with 7,000 members in the state. The group assigned the Legislature a B- for its efforts.

Tony Gagliardi, state director of the NFIB in Colorado, described the overall result as the usual mixed bag. Some measures the NFIB supported were enacted. Other measures the NFIB opposed were killed. Still other measures the NFIB wanted to pass didn’t.

What’s been widely acclaimed as one of the highlights of the session was legislation reclassifying the state hospital provider fee into a government-owned enterprise fund to avoid the constitutional limits imposed by the so-called Taxpayers Bill of Rights, but also lowering the state revenue limit by $200 million. Another interesting part of the deal was an increase in the exemption up to $18,000 in such business personal property as computers and desks with a state tax credit.

Gagliardi also hailed the passage of legislation creating a task force to study ways to simplify the collection and reimbursement of sales and use taxes in Colorado, where more than 700 separate districts impose those taxes. This imposes additional paperwork and related costs on businesses.

Meanwhile a measure that would have set up a program to enroll small business employees in state-funded retirement accounts — something the NFIB opposed — was killed.

The biggest disappointment for Gagliardi — and, most likely, small business owners and managers across Colorado — was the failure of a measure that would have changed the regulatory relationships between state agencies and small businesses. The measure required that when a state agency determines a small business commits a minor violation of a rule, rather than impose a fine, the agency would notify the business in writing and give the business 30 days to cure the violation. The measure wouldn’t have applied to violations that threaten public health, but to minor violations that often occur inadvertently.

It’s hard to imagine a more straightforward and simple, yet more profound, idea. The law would have signaled that Colorado is open for business and, in fact, appreciates small businesses and the jobs they provide.

It’s no small matter, either, because small businesses collectively constitute big business in Colorado. According to numbers compiled by the U.S. Small Business Administration, small firms account for nearly 98 percent of all employers in the state and have on their payrolls about 50 percent of the work force.

Gagliardi said the NFIB plans to continue to lobby for regulatory reform. Here’s hoping the group is successful.

More generally, though, here’s hoping state lawmakers put their votes where their mouths are when it comes to supporting small businesses.

That and keep life, liberty and property safe.