Not long ago, Democrats made a concerted effort to rebrand themselves as “progressive.” Evidently, too many voters had come to view the old “liberal” label as synonymous with big government. Meaning, ever more taxes, fees and regulations that smother prosperity and kill jobs.
If Colorado’s now-“progressive” ruling Democrats persist on their present path, they may have to rebrand once again in the near future. Their new label, after all, does little to obscure their same old penchant for slapping a chokehold on the state’s economy every time they seek to impose some new, presumed social good.
While the state constitution prevents them from raising taxes without a vote of the people, the Democrats’ agenda has been heavy on fees and regulations since voters entrusted them with all the levers of statewide government in the 2018 election.
In the 2021 legislature alone, the Democratic majority is proposing a passel of fees to fund transportation, penalize single-use plastics, reduce greenhouse gases and promote “environmental justice.” And on the regulatory side of the ledger, Democrats are once again pushing new mandates and other burdens on the businesses that create our state’s jobs.
On Monday, business-advocacy groups called a news conference to denounce two particularly egregious examples that are now pending in the General Assembly. One is the controversial “public option” health-care proposal that is dividing even the Democrats themselves, and the other is a reckless and unwarranted expansion of the ability to sue over workplace harassment.
Even before leading voices in Colorado’s business community weighed in with their opposition to the public-option proposal, key stakeholders in the health-care sector were sounding the alarm. House Bill 1232 arbitrarily seeks to strangle insurance reimbursements to the main providers in the health-care equation. Hospitals — particularly already-hard-pressed rural ones — are saying a public option will bust their budgets and force some to close. Doctors are predicting many in their ranks will move out of state. Overall quality of care will suffer.
Senate Bill 176, meanwhile, would lower the standard for litigation by employees alleging harassment, retaliation and discrimination. In Colorado as in most states, there already is an extensive and oft-invoked procedure for filing suit over such workplace grievances under state and federal law. It’s hard to see what legitimate need this proposal serves that that isn’t already being met. To be sure, SB 176’s implementation would be followed by an inevitable wave of new lawsuits — but not the kind that would vindicate the bill’s sponsors. More likely it would be frivolous litigation by claimants exploiting the new free for all. As always, the trial lawyers would hop aboard the gravy train, but the rest of the private-sector economy — especially the businesses that get sued, fairly or unfairly — would be left behind at the station, empty handed.
Both proposals are examples of bad-for-business bills that set up the state’s job creators for attacks on two fronts. Up front, employers will be undermined by losing vital operating revenue — in the case of HB 1232, due to capped reimbursements; in the case of SB 176, due to exorbitant damages awards as well as pre-trial settlements. And then there’s all the collateral damage that each bill will cause. From the ripple effects of closed hospitals and shuttered medical practices due to HB 1232; from higher liability insurance premiums paid by wide-ranging businesses under SB 176. And the casualties include both small and large employers. Small business can’t afford to lawyer up in the face of even patently flimsy lawsuits. Bigger businesses will have to pick up the tab for cost shifting to large-group health-insurance plans when the “public option” proposal squeezes medical providers by cutting reimbursements from small-group and individual plans.
It’s all a recipe for even more of an economic meltdown — on the heels of COVID’s economic crunch. All because the party in power in Colorado seems to think businesses have bottomless pockets. It’s not that way in every state, though, as noted Monday by the most prominent voice for the state’s small-business community.
“I know of no other state that is going out of its way to harm the only people who can lead us to a sustained economic recovery,” said Tony Gagliardi, Colorado state director for the National Federation of Independent Business. “In fact, our neighboring legislatures are bending over backward to unburden their business owners of taxes and regulations while passing liability protection against unfair COVID-19 lawsuits. Equally important, they’re not cooking up new ideas to please cause groups and punish businesses. Not us. Not Colorado.” Alas.