DENVER (AP) — Majority Democrats in Colorado’s Legislature have been rushing through a bill in the last week of the session that would suspend or reduce several business tax credits and corporate incentives to generate millions of dollars for public schools.
But Gov. Jared Polis said Thursday he sees no way for the bill, in its current form, to become law.
“We’re happy to find a way to make it a pro-business package that would be good for jobs and good for business and we look forward to seeing if there’s a path to get there," Polis said during a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic.
Polis spoke just moments after the House voted 39-26 to send the bill to the Senate. Polis, a Democrat and successful tech entrepreneur, said he'd had no recent talks with Democratic leaders and said he would only support a bill that's “business-friendly.”
Republicans and chambers of commerce across the state were caught off guard by the bill, introduced Monday. The legislation would cut state tax breaks paired to federal pandemic aid; eliminate certain state business tax credits and deductions, including for business energy consumption and limit deductions for net operating losses, among other measures.
Critics called it a job- and small business-killing venture at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has slammed the economy, with Colorado jobless claims surpassing 500,000.
“This is the worst time to force a massive tax increase on the people of Colorado,” Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Kevin Van Winkle said before the vote.
Republicans from Colorado Springs, Grand Junction and elsewhere said their local business chambers were not consulted by the bill’s Democratic sponsors — Reps. Matt Gray and Emily Sirota, and Sens. Chris Hansen and Dominick Moreno.
“I don’t know who they talked to on the western slope,” said Rep. Janice Rich, a former treasurer in Mesa County, which includes Grand Junction. “We’ve been spending like drunken sailors up here. ... Where’s the discipline?”
Supporters argued the measure would close tax loopholes for well-to-do businesses to help generate an initial $248 million for K-12 schools. Public education faces a dramatic funding shortfall after lawmakers had to cut $3.3 billion from the $13 billion state general fund for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Democratic Rep. Mike Weissman, the bill’s chief proponent during a floor debate that consumed most of Wednesday and much of Thursday, insisted the bill would affect only tiny percentages of top corporate earners.
“Education in our country has always been a ladder out of dark places,” Weissman declared, citing government programs created in past crises such as the Great Depression.
At least 26 chambers of commerce urged Democrats this week to slow down, to little effect.
“Just when employers need relief most, the bill complicates Colorado’s tax laws and drives up the cost of doing business in Colorado by eliminating tax cuts in the CARES Act and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017,” Denver Metro Chamber president Kelly Brough said in a statement. She was referring, respectively, to federal pandemic relief for businesses and Trump administration tax cuts three years ago.
Democrat-sponsored bills to help residents affected by the coronavirus pandemic advanced in both chambers Thursday. Some bills would be funded by $70 million in federal relief aid at lawmakers' disposal.
The legislation proposes $15 million for mental health and substance abuse treatment; $20 million in small business grants; $20 million in rent or mortgage aid to prevent evictions; $5 million to help the unemployed or low-income families avoid any utility shutoffs; $5 million for the tourism sector; and creation of a public-private fund to support loans to small businesses.