More than 25 chambers of commerce and other economic development groups from across Colorado heard from insiders about what they can expect before lawmakers leave the state Capitol for the summer.
The legislature took a break for the coronavirus pandemic on March 14 and did not return until May 26. Though they were expected to take up "fast, free and friendly" bills related to the state budget or recovery from the economic collapse, lawmakers have veered into other legislation, with less attention than a normal session and fewer people at the statehouse to debate the issues.
"We're concerned they're not living up to that promise in these final days," said Dirk Draper, head of the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC, which organized the call.
He was concerned about the speed of legislation and the challenges businesses face keeping up with the changes and the new costs and restrictions being handed down.
"We know businesses help create jobs across this state and put people back to work," he said.
Kelly Brough, leader of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, shared the concerns.
"At the Denver Metro Chamber we have one goal, putting people back to work," she said, hoping lawmakers would share that goal.
"Quite the contrary," she said, "that hasn't been our experience at the legislature."
Normally business leaders would be concerned, but now the changes are critical to survival.
"We understand legislators are faced with challenging decisions," Brough said. "Frankly, every employer in this country is faced with challenging decisions right now. Trying to balance the budget on the backs of our employers and employees is not only foolhardy in the short run, it's dangerous to our economic recovery in the long run."
Separately the Denver-based Common Sense Institute released a white paper Wednesday counting up the cost of a handful of the same proposals, coming up with about $4 billion for businesses and individual taxpayers.
"With so many businesses on the brink of survival, and hundreds of thousands of Coloradans needing jobs, is now the right time to make it more expensive for businesses to stay open and put people back to work? That is the question confronting policymakers and the public in the days, weeks and months ahead," asks the paper authored by.
Read the full analysis by clicking here.
Business leaders on Wednesday talked about:
- Senate Bill 205: paid sick leave for workers.
- Senate Bill 207: an expanded definition of who qualifies for unemployment insurance.
- Senate Bill 213: allowing alcohol with takeout orders.
- Senate Bill 215: restructuring the state reinsurance program aimed at holding down premiums.
- Senate Bill 216: worker's compensation for essential workers related to COVID-19.
- House Bill 1414: rules on price gouging and deceptive practices during a disaster.
- House Bill 1415: protections for whistleblowers related to health and safety.
- House Bill 1420: to end certain tax benefits to put $248 million a year into the State Education Fund, called the Fair Tax Act.
Loren Furman, senior vice president of state and federal relations for the Colorado Chamber of Commerce, called in from the state Capitol.
She said bills keep getting introduced and rushed through.
"Unfortunately what we've seen the last two, two and half weeks are several new bills being introduced every day," Furman said. "... They're introducing them and passing them so quickly, and these bills are going to only going to make it impossible for businesses to recover after the pandemic."
She said employers would pay for expanded worker's compensation, new money for the state's reinsurance program, a loss of tax breaks — the latter bill was introduced Monday and was in committee on Tuesday and could be headed to the governor by the end of the week.
"This is what's happening down at the Capitol right now," Furman said.
She said businesses alone will see a billion dollars in increases from various legislation she's working to amend.
Tony Gagliardi of the NFIB Colorado said government needs to start listening to the voice of small businesses, since they've borne the brunt. He, like other speakers, were dismayed lawmakers the session most officials would only deal with the state budget, school finances and pandemic recovery.
"It wasn't the pandemic that shut business down," he said. "It was government that shut business down, and it was government who picked winners and losers over who had to shut down and who got to stay open."
Diane Schwenke, CEO and president of the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, said she has polled 176 local business owners.
"At least 50% of them have seen significant losses in business income so far," she said, adding that about 30% of those who furloughed workers don't plan to rehire them.
The session is expected to wrap up in the next few days to allow lawmakers time to campaign, if the few cases any incumbents are facing primaries.
Schwenke called the legislation pending some of the worst the business community has seen in years.
Shawn Martini of the Colorado Farm Bureau said his members share the same concerns with process, cost and timing of the surprise legislation. Farmers and ranchers have paid enough from low commodity prices, tariffs, drought and other setbacks, he said.
"Safe to say our farmers and ranchers are struggling right now," he said. "... Many of them have lost money multiple years in a row, so this is not a good time to be passing legislation that puts such a significant burden on our farmers and ranchers, who are small business people, as well."
Mike Kopp, president and CEO of the business coalition Colorado Concern, is a former Senate Republican leader. He offered list of advice to lawmakers, including taking a step back and working with the business community on a more balanced legislative package to "ride out this economic storm."
"Failing to reach a balance at this time, as so many of these bills have, will lead to more job losses and less opportunity for Colorado workers," he said.
He told legislators, "Take more time. Your hasty actions are going to cost jobs. It's as simple as that. Businesses already are closing before these new barriers are even put into place."