Colorado law­mak­ers have a chance to root out crony­ism

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE - By Michael Fields

s the Colorado Gen­eral As­sem­bly gears up to re-con­vene in Jan­uary, law­mak­ers should not for­get the les­sons of the 2016 elec­tion. Amer­i­cans across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum made clear that they won’t tol­er­ate rigged pol­i­tics. Colorado leg­is­la­tors should take heed – and should seize the op­por­tu­nity to cham­pion bi­par­ti­san re­forms that root out spe­cial-in­ter­est deals and level the play­ing field so that hard­work­ing tax­pay­ers have a greater chance to suc­ceed.

Cur­rently, Colorado has dozens of pro­grams that ben­e­fit the well-con­nected at the ex­pense of ev­ery­one else. Ac­cord­ing to a 2012 re­port by the New York Times, Colorado doles out at least $995-mil­lion-worth of fa­vors through an ar­ray in­cen­tive pro­grams each year. There are all kinds of in­cen­tive pro­grams that fa­vor some in­dus­tries over oth­ers, from tax cred­its to cash grants to en­ter­prise zones, which give tax cred­its to busi­nesses who set­tle in des­ig­nated ar­eas.

But there’s noth­ing stop­ping state law­mak­ers from rolling back these spe­cial-in­ter­est deals. Here are three places they could start:

First, law­mak­ers could re­scind deals made un­der the Re­gional Tourism Act (RTA). Signed into law in 2009, the RTA has given de­vel­op­ers mas­sive tax breaks for build­ing in Colorado. The same year the law passed, the new Gay­lord Rock­ies was promised $81.4 mil­lion in tax in­cen­tives for its $800 mil­lion project. The Colorado Springs’ “City for Cham­pi­ons” de­vel­op­ment was granted as much as $120.5 mil­lion over 30 years for build­ing a down­town sta­dium and three other ma­jor build­ings.

While no new projects will be funded un­der the scheme that ex­pired in 2016, cur­rently tax­payer-funded hand­outs are be­ing used to pick win­ners and losers to the detri­ment of ev­ery­one else. The Gay­lord re­sort and Colorado Springs’ sta­dium should stand on their own merit, not atop a gov­ern­ment ladder.

Sec­ond, the House and Se­nate could re­verse a num­ber of their re­cently-en­acted la­bor de­vel­op­ment deals be­fore they fully go into ef­fect. In June 2016, Gov. John Hick­en­looper signed the fi­nal mea­sure of a seven-bill “work­force-de­vel­op­ment pack­age,” which in­cluded grant­ing com­pa­nies tax­payer money to de­velop in­dus­try train­ing pro­grams.

This la­bor bill comes on the heels of an eight-bill work­force de­vel­op­ment pack­age that the gover­nor signed into law in 2015. That pack­age had a sim­i­lar pro­gram, grant­ing some com­pa­nies a $5,000 tax-credit per per­sons they em­ploy as in­terns. In­cen­tive pro­grams like these prop up the lucky few com­pa­nies that qual­ify and leave ev­ery­one else fur­ther be­hind.

Third, law­mak­ers could do away with film tax cred­its. Film tax cred­its are a com­mon state boon­dog­gle. In 2009, 44 states and the Dis­trict of Columbia pro­vided tax cred­its to movie pro­duc­ers, Colorado among them. Colorado sets aside $3 mil­lion for film tax breaks each year – a small amount, but waste­ful none­the­less. Case in point: In 2014, Colorado gave 80 per­cent of its film sub­sidy to “The Hate­ful Eight,” and yet it failed to cre­ate longterm jobs in Colorado.

Na­tion­wide, the Univer­sity of South­ern California re­cently found that from 1999 to 2013 film tax cred­its have pro­duced nearly zero new jobs. That ex­plains why as of 2016 the num­ber of states that pro­vide film tax cred­its dropped to 37. Colorado could join the states that have aban­doned this cor­po­rate wel­fare scheme.

These are just three places Colorado law­mak­ers could rein in cor­po­rate wel­fare. There are dozens more. This leg­isla­tive ses­sion, state law­mak­ers could cut off the spe­cial-in­ter­est give­aways and let the peo­ple deter­mine which busi­nesses’ prod­ucts and ser­vices best meet their needs. That would a

vic­tory for all Coloradans. Michael Fields is the Colorado state di­rec­tor of Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­ity.

The Gay­lord Rock­ies Re­sort and Con­ven­tion Cen­ter — here, un­der con­struc­tion in the sum­mer of 2016 — was promised $81.4 mil­lion in tax in­cen­tives for its $800 mil­lion project. Andy Cross. Den­ver Post file

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