Bipartisan panel offers job-creation package

By Jason Kosena

Thursday, Jan. 29, was a cold day for a press conference on the west steps of the Capitol, but that didn’t stop lawmakers from going outdoors to promote legislation aimed at creating new jobs in Colorado.

Photos by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

Senate President Peter Groff speaks to reporters during a press conference on Thursday on the west steps of the state Capitol.

The bipartisan Joint Select Committee on Job Creation and Economic Growth, backed by metro area business leaders, outlined a comprehensive package of job-creation bills that its supporters say will create “tens of thousands of jobs.”

Included in the proposed package is legislation covering five key areas:

• FASTER (Funding Advancement for Surface Transportation & Economic Recovery) legislation to repair state roads and bridges;

• Tax incentives for companies that move to Colorado and create jobs;

• State assistance to banks to increase the availability of loans to small businesses;

• New energy-economy requirements, including legislation aimed at making it easier to build solar-ready homes;

• Rural job creation through medical jobs and additional job training.

The Joint Select Committee was formed late last year and worked through the holiday break to come up with a list of job creation bills that could number as many as 30 by the end of the legislative session.

Senate President Peter Groff, D-Denver, said during the press conference that although he and Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, didn’t have the authority to officially create a select committee outside of a legislative session, the state couldn’t wait until January to get to work.
Republican leadership in the House and Senate agreed.

Rep. Don Marostica, R-Loveland, steps up to
the podium during the press conference.

“We took an extraordinary step in November,” Groff said of creating the committee. “We wanted to figure out what we can do in this state to create jobs and get a handle on fixing the economic situation facing this state. We didn’t want to wait until the gavel fell to (get) started.”

The committee’s chair, Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, said the first pieces of legislation announced Thursday are important to Colorado’s economy.

“While Colorado has fared better than most other states, we know we are not immune,” Schwartz said. “Just this week we heard the latest job numbers (and) even though Colorado’s unemployment rate is still lower than the national average, it does not make up for the fact that almost 47,000 Coloradans have lost their jobs in the past year.”

Loveland Republican Rep. Don Marostica, who sits on the Joint Budget Committee, and is the sponsor of SB 67, which will increase the availability of small business loans in Colorado and is part of the jobs package, called his bill a good step forward for the state’s business culture.

“I am proud to help the governor’s office in this current economic crisis where small business really needs the state the most,” Marostica said. “With this credit reserve program... we’re going to be able to help those businesses right now... and they need it. All along the years that business was good, they were paying taxes into the system, and now they need the help.”

Not every part of the jobs package laid out so far has bipartisan support, however.

Republicans have balked at Gov. Bill Ritter’s FASTER bill, which would increase vehicle registration fees statewide in order to provide hundreds of millions of dollars worth of funding for road and bridge repair work. Not only have the Republicans voiced disapproval with Ritter’s plan to increase vehicle registration fees on state drivers at an economic time when people are hurting, they have also said they cannot get behind a provision of the bill that would spend $3 million on a study to explore the feasibility of a pay-as-you-drive tax system, assessing fees according to how many miles a vehicle travels rather than according to how much it weighs.

Other groups in support of the jobs package represented Thursday were the Colorado Banking Association and the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.