Businesses win, lose at Capitol

DENVER – Sandra Hagen Solin looks back at the recently completed 2009 legislative session with mixed feelings including an underlying sense of accomplishment on behalf of the region’s business community.

“I would say it was a mixed bag although we fared better than I thought we were going to fare at mid-session,´ said Solin, issues manager for the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance. “We came out of it better than we thought. It could have been a lot worse. But it was a lot of hard work.”

The NCLA has been the lobbying arm of Northern Colorado business since 1992. Officially, it represents the Fort Collins, Loveland and Greeley chambers of commerce and the Northern Colorado Economic Development Corp.

With Democrats in the majority in both the House and Senate and a Democrat governor this year, business interests were in the hands of a party not generally known for being the most business-friendly. But Solin said there were some bills carried by Democrats that NCLA strongly supported, such as HB1105 sponsored by John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, which provides tax credits to angel investors who help fund startup companies.

“We were the leading force behind HB1105, which will allow a number of companies requiring some additional capital to get that and start creating jobs,” she said.

Kefalas, for his part, is willing to spread the credit to both sides of the aisle. “I do believe a strong bipartisan focus of the legislature was to create jobs,” he said.

But Solin said NCLA was disappointed in a number of bills that the majority was able to pass over near-unanimous Republican opposition in many cases, including the Parental Leave Bill sponsored by Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, and SB228, which removed the 6 percent cap on state spending growth, co-sponsored by Rep. Don Marostica, R-Loveland.

Marostica said removing the cap was “just the first tug on the Gordian knot we have in Colorado,” referring to spending constraints on the state that are compounded in poor revenue years.

Marostica, who took heavy criticism from his Republican colleagues for breaking ranks and sponsoring the bill, said the state has to make some tough choices soon to cope with its spending limits and another $400 million-plus projected shortfall in 2010.

“There’s no other way to do it but to raise revenue,” he said. “It’s a drastic situation.”

Negative bills die

Solin said NCLA was happy to see several bills die that she said would have had a negative impact on business, including HB1208 – which would have required contractors to pay federal prevailing wages on public works projects – and HB273, which would have seized assets from Pinnacol Assurance to offset cuts in higher education.

“We understood what the Joint budget Committee was trying to achieve in getting funding to higher education,” she said. “We just felt it would have been setting a terrible precedent.”

Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, said he was glad the legislature was eventually able to find a way to avoid devastating cuts to higher education in a terrible revenue year.

“In my district, higher education is definitely the biggest employer and my job is taking care of it – that’s Job 1,” he said.

Fischer said one of the most important bills to come out of the session for business was the so-called FASTER measure, which proposes to raise $200 million annually for transportation through vehicle fees.

“I would say the FASTER bill, SB108, was one of the top bills for business because it addresses one of the issues business has always been interested in, and that’s transportation infrastructure,” he said.

All in all, Fischer said he’s proud of the achievements of the 2009 session. “Given the horrendous budget situation, I think we did a good job with very little financial resources to back us up.”