Hickenlooper vetoes tourism projects bill

Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed a bill Friday that would have increased the number of projects eligible for state sales tax breaks under the Regional Tourism Act.

“We share the General Assembly’s desire to encourage tourism in Colorado, but Senate Bill 12-124 does not accomplish this goal effectively or efficiently,” Hickenlooper wrote in a letter to the Legislature.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, sought to authorize the state Economic Development Commission to approve six regional tourism projects in any year. Current law allows the commission to approve and finance a total of six regional tourism projects over three consecutive years, or two projects annually.

Local governments can apply for state sales tax breaks for projects that generate out-of-state tourism. Six projects are now competing for the state funding, including Estes Park’s Elkhorn Project.

The project includes a proposed $50 million year-round ski and recreational area on the historic Elkhorn Lodge property.

The state must ensure the process remains competitive so that the state selects only unique and extraordinary projects, Hickenlooper wrote in the letter.

“Increasing the award to up to six projects in this legislative session, simply because there are six applications currently pending before the (Economic Development Commission), adds undue pressure to the process,” Hickenlooper wrote.

Continuing to allow just two projects also will provide more accountability, he added.

Construction industry groups supported the bill, sponsored in the House by Rep. B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland.

Leaders of several construction industry groups said in a letter sent to the governor last month that the “hallmark of the legislation is job creation.”

Democrats have said the bill would harm the state’s budget and lacked proper safeguards.

The six projects now being considered by the commission would divert millions of dollars in annual taxes that they said the state would have to cut from the budget or replace with revenue from new sources.

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