A tumultuous year in national politics was the backdrop when the Colorado Legislature convened in January.
State politicians are considering issues that could affect the business community, including grants for technical education and a minimum wage alternative.
TRANSPORTATION FUNDING INCREASE
Both the Senate and House have bills designed for highway building and maintenance funding without raising taxes. House Bill 18-1119 and Senate Bill 18-001 both refer the measure to a vote in the November election to issue $3.5 billion of debt.
HB18-1119 was proposed by District 25 (Jefferson County) Rep. Timothy Leonard and sponsored in the Senate by Tim Neville of District 16 (Boulder, Denver, Gilpin and Jefferson counties).
“Everybody in the business community is focused on roads,” Leonard said. “It affects them directly and indirectly. Traffic delays and commute times affect expansion and relocation decisions for new and existing businesses.”
SB18-001 was proposed by John Cooke of District 13 (Weld County), and co-sponsored by District 8 (Garfield, Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Routt and Summit counties) Sen. Randy Baumgardner, District 20 (El Paso County) Rep. Terri Carver and District 49 (Larimer and Weld counties) Rep. Perry Buck.
Leonard said he expects one of the bills — or a combination of the two — to pass. According to Colorado’s General Assembly website, leg.colorado.gov, either bill would authorize the state to issue $3.5 billion in transportation revenue anticipation notes [TRANs] for the purpose of funding the construction of specified high-priority highway projects. The differences are that the House bill does not direct funds toward transit (as SB001 does) since the Regional Transportation Department already funds transit projects, and does not interfere with prioritizing rural projects (which SB001 does), since the 11 transportation commissioners have set their rural priorities.
Paying off the TRANs, at no higher cost than $5 billion, would cost $250 million a year in tax revenue.
Leonard said either bill would double the funding for roads, but he’s against Gov. John Hickenlooper’s suggestion to ask voters for a sales tax hike to cover transportation costs. Hickenlooper proposed adding $148.2 million in new tax revenues to the budget.
“Colorado elected officials have a spending problem, not a revenue problem,” Leonard said in an email. “The state has received $1 billion a year in new revenue for the past 20 years from taxpayers and its governor and legislators have chosen to spend it on everything except transportation.”
MINIMUM WAGE ALTERNATIVE
When District 15 (El Paso County) Rep. Dave Williams introduced House Bill 18-1106, it failed to reach the House floor for a vote.
“It did fail in the Democratic-controlled House but I’ll be discussing the possibility of having a late bill introduced in the [Republican-led] Senate,” he said.
The bill would have allowed a job applicant or employer to negotiate a wage that is agreeable to the employer and the applicant or employee. The bill would require employers to post a notice of the right to negotiate wages.
Williams said in an email that the government makes it challenging for low-skilled, inexperienced workers to find employment.
“It’s wrong for the government to deny entry-level job opportunities to workers [who] are desperately trying to get onto the first rung of the economic and employment ladder,” he said. “Conversely, employers can’t afford to hire these potential employees at this artificially inflated labor cost, which causes employers to not offer jobs at all or turn to self-service and automation.”
Colorado’s minimum wage rose to $10.20 in 2018 [$7.18 for tipped employees] and will increase 90 cents in each of the next two years to reach $12 and $8.98 respectively in 2020.
“We need to allow low-skilled, inexperienced workers the opportunity to offer their labor for the highest price they can negotiate,” Williams said, “so they can find meaningful work and gain valuable job experience.”
AIDING TECHNICAL EDUCATION
House Bill 18-1034 would create a career and technical education capital grant program in the Department of Labor and Employment, designed to prepare people for employment as semi-skilled or skilled workers or technicians.
District 56 (Adams and Arapahoe counties) Rep. Phil Covarrubias proposed the bill along with District 51 (Larimer County) Rep. Hugh McKean and District 25 (Adams County) Sen. Kevin Priola.
The state workforce development council would award grants to technical colleges, school districts and community colleges for the purpose of buying equipment or the construction and maintenance of buildings. The council would prioritize applicants from rural areas of the state and consider demonstrated need.
BUSINESS TRAINING, NOT PUNISHMENT
The goal of House Bill 18-1113 is to provide education and training for small businesses regarding new regulations, rather than punishing first-time violators for noncompliance, if the violation is deemed minor. The bill was introduced by District 45 (Douglas County) Rep. Patrick Neville, and co-sponsored in the Senate by his father Tim Neville of District 16 (Boulder, Denver, Gilpin and Jefferson counties) and Vicki Marble of District 23 (Broomfield, Larimer and Weld counties).
The bill would enact the “Regulatory Reform Act of 2018.” It recognizes that small businesses with fewer than 100 employees make up the majority of business activity in Colorado, and that there is a disconnect between the addition of new regulations and those businesses.
According to the proposed bill, “Most often, a small business owner may not be aware of new rules until someone from a state agency audits the business and determines it has not complied with new regulatory directives.”
New regulations are those less than a year old, and minor violations typically involve record keeping or issues that do not affect the safety of the public. The first minor violation will require the state agency to issue a written warning and “engage the business in educational outreach as to the methods of complying with the new rule.” State agencies must also make new rules available electronically.
MORE POT MONEY FOR SCHOOLS
House Bill 18-1070 is meant to increase the amount of financial assistance provided for public school capital construction under the “Building Excellent Schools Today Act.” Currently, the first $40 million of retail marijuana excise tax revenue annually collected is credited to the public school capital construction assistance fund, and the remainder of the revenue goes to the state public school fund.
HB1070 would increase the amount of retail marijuana excise tax revenue credited to the assistance fund to either the first $40 million or 90 percent of the revenue annually collected — whichever is greater — with the remainder still going to the state public school fund.
HB1070 was proposed by District 50 (Weld County) Rep. Dave Young, and co-sponsored by District 37 (Arapahoe County) Rep. Cole Wist, District 19 (Jefferson County) Sen. Rachel Zenzinger and District 7 (Mesa County) Sen. Ray Scott.