Kelly Sloan, The Business Times
Two Grand Valley lawmakers say the Colorado Legislature must remove what they consider regulatory “hurdles” that hinder job growth in the state.
That includes an increase in renewable energy standards for cooperative electrical associations enacted last year as well as the effects of federal health care legislation, according to State Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, and State Rep. Jared Wright, R-Fruita.
The latest legislative session began Jan. 8 at the State Capitol in Denver.
“For the state of Colorado to be successful, business has to be successful,” King said.
While Gov. John Hickenlooper has promised to focus on jobs and the economy, that hasn’t been the case, King said. “The lack of follow through by this administration from last year’s state of the state address, where the talk was of ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ until now is the biggest obstacle for business and the economy,” he said. “All we have seen is regulation, regulation and regulation and tax, tax tax, not the jobs, jobs jobs the governor talked about.”
While much of Western Colorado has yet to recover from the recession, the economy should remain a priority statewide, King added. “The Front Range is moving forward to some degree, but not gangbusters. We are not in a position as a state to lose sight of the hurdles we put in front of job creators.”
King said there will be some efforts on the part of the minority Republicans in the Legislature to overturn what they deemed harmful laws enacted by the Democrat majority last session. That includes a measure that doubles the proportion of electricity that must be provided by renewable energy sources to 20 percent by 2020 for cooperative electrical associations and utilities that supply power to those associations.
“Rural Colorado, and agriculture in particular, is still feeling the negative effects of increased renewable mandates on cooperatives,” King said.
The new standards are unobtainable and impose an unfair burden on agricultural businesses that already have seen an increase in their electric bills for irrigation and other operations, he added.
Wright said he’s worried about effects of the federal health care law. “One of my biggest focuses this session will be on stopping Obamacare in Colorado before this mandate steamrolls over business growth, our state’s budget and our economy as a whole.”
An expanding Medicaid health care program funded jointly by the federal and state governments could strain the state budget, Wright said. “One of the biggest challenges this state faces as a whole is the risk to our budget by the Medicaid expansion, which has already grown from 6.2 percent of the state population to
13.8 percent since 2000,” Wright said. “The Medicaid caseload is now growing by 6,000 recipients per month in Colorado. This is not sustainable.”
As spending for Medicaid increases, less funding will be available for other functions, Wright added. “When state revenues drop again, as they are projected to do, you will see even less money available for higher education and basic infrastructure like roads and bridges. Right now about 47 percent of roads in Colorado are deemed to be in fair or better conditions as rated by the Colorado Department of Transportation. With the Medicaid expansion, I can only see this getting worse due to our constitutional budget limitations.”
King said he’s working on two initiatives he expects to help businesses in Western Colorado and statewide.
“I will be working on funding for the Colorado Wildfire Air Corps,” he said referring to legislation he successfully ran last year to establish a fleet of air tankers to fight wildlfires. “I think there will be some business opportunities, not just in regards to the development of cutting-edge wildfire-fighting technology, but in the process of putting together the air fleet.”
King also wants to change the state lottery system. “I will introduce a bill to change the Colorado Lottery to a Class 1 organization and take it out of the Department of Revenue, which has not been working in the best interests of the lottery in terms of maximizing profits,” he said.
The measure follows a Legislative Audit Committee finding last year of waste in the lottery system being run by the Department of Revenue. King, who serves on the Legislative Audit Committee, said an increase in lottery proceeds will directly benefit the entities that receive those proceeds.
In addition to his work related to the effects of federal health care legislation, Wright said another priority will involve the management of public lands in Colorado. “I will work towards real solutions for the poor public land management by the federal government, especially when combined with state compliance regulations.”
Wright said overly restrictive management practices applied to federal land — which comprises roughly 70 percent of Mesa County – is in part responsible for the downturn in energy development in Western Colorado over the last few years. “This has led many energy producers to look elsewhere, in turn hurting our local economy.”
Wright said he’s concerned Hickenlooper’s priorities will do little to bolster Western Slope business.
“The governor’s budget proposal is focusing on tourism, incentives for the film industry and accelerator act funding,” Wright said.
While tourism is important in Western Colorado, Wright said additional efforts are needed that focus on the unique business needs of the region.
“For example, not even one-tenth of 1 percent of the state budget is allocated to economic development activities in agriculture, a key element of our local economy,” he said.
King said Democrats could run some construction defect and communications bills, but politics will once again play a large role in dictating the overall course of the session.
“It is an election year, so I don’t think we will see the same radical agenda pushed this year as we did last year from the liberal left,” he said.
King doubts there will be a major tax increase on the table this year. “That is good news for taxpayers.”
In terms of what he believes needs to be done for the economy, King reiterated, “a focus on anything that involves job creation, the loosening of restrictions and regulations that hinder job creation, will be a positive step.”