House Republican leadership unveils its 2012 jobs agenda

The Colorado Statesman

House Republican leadership on Thursday unveiled their jobs agenda for 2012, acknowledging that though there’s nothing “flashy” about the nine legislative proposals they plan to introduce at the start of the session on Jan. 11, the bills would provide needed incentives to help businesses.

One proposal would reinstate the 6 percent government spending limit, formerly known as Arveschoug-Bird, eliminated by Democrats during the 2009 legislative session. But the majority of the proposals deal with minimizing regulatory burdens experienced by businesses in Colorado.

House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, said that simply removing regulatory hurdles would be enough to increase hiring and spur the economy.

“Some have said that there’s no flash or nothing fancy to this agenda, and to a certain extent that’s right — we take our view of this session very seriously, and we’re not going to rely on gimmicks, we’re not going to rely on attempting to distract the people of Colorado with a shiny object in the corner…” McNulty said Thursday morning at a media availability at the Capitol. “If we’re able to do these simple agenda items… it will improve Colorado’s economic environment and will result in the creation of jobs.”

The regulatory reform bills proposed by House Republicans include:

• The Creating Level Expectations for Application Review (CLEAR) Act, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling. The bill would create a standard permitting process for submitting permit applications in Colorado by ensuring that the rules in place at the beginning of an application process remain the same for the duration of the review. McNulty says rules can currently change at any time during a permitting process;

• Requiring state agencies to issue an analysis of proposed regulatory changes before a rulemaking hearing begins. Rep. Libby Szabo, R-Arvada, is sponsoring the proposal. McNulty, arguing for transparency, pointed out that the proposal would allow lawmakers and citizens to explore the full impact of proposed rule changes by having an agency-specific analysis conducted prior to a rulemaking hearing;

• Requiring state agencies to work with all stakeholders when crafting proposed rule changes, to publish regulatory agendas for the year, and to report to legislative oversight committees for questioning. Rep. Cindy Acree, R-Aurora, is sponsoring the measure. In another bid for greater transparency in the rulemaking process, McNulty argued that this would help businesses and stakeholders to better understand and be prepared for new or changing regulatory obstacles ahead of them; and

• Easing penalties imposed on businesses by giving owners 20 days to cure certain infractions before receiving a fine. Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, is sponsoring the bill. As examples, McNulty offered paperwork errors, or something as simple as failing to display the permit number issued to a piece of construction equipment, which can result in hefty fines. He believes such fines discourage job creation and economic development.

Loren Furman, senior vice president of state and federal relations for the Colorado Association of Commerce & Industry, agreed with McNulty that burdensome regulations on businesses discourage economic development. She believes House Republicans are headed in the right direction with their jobs agenda.

“It’s a great package. I think that most of all, it doesn’t hinder any kind of growth or success of business in Colorado, and that’s what we’re going to look to support — bills that don’t prevent those kind of things,” she said.

Furman feels that the business community has had a more open dialogue with Republicans over their jobs agenda compared to Senate Democrats who unveiled their version on Dec. 14. Democrats have proposed at least a dozen bills that are tied to their jobs agenda including Senate Bill 1, which would direct state agencies to give preference to Colorado companies bidding on state government contracts.

“The biggest difference that I can point to right now, which is a little frustrating, is on the [Republican] agenda that came out today, we were pulled in; it was explained to us. That opportunity had not been provided to us before that list of bills came out from the Senate [Democrats]…” said Furman. “We’re doing a lot of chasing our tails on some of the proposals that they have released.”

But labor leaders disagree. They say Senate Democrats have done a better job of bringing them into the conversation than House Republicans.

“I’d be dishonest if I said I wasn’t more aware of the details of the Democratic legislation than what the Republicans are proposing and prioritizing,” said Phil Hayes, political and legislative director for the AFL-CIO in Colorado.

Republicans said pieces of the Democrats’ agenda are reminiscent of the “Twilight Zone,” including SB 1. Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver, proposed a bill similar to SB 1 last year, but it was killed after concerns were raised that the legislation would drive up costs by forcing agencies into higher bids. Republicans on Thursday hammered Democrats for proposing a similar bill this year.

“While Democrats were busy ignoring business leaders and recycling anti-business bills, Republicans were busy traveling the state to meet with job creators and working with business leaders to create an agenda that promotes jobs,” said Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson.

But Hayes said Republicans should “take a look in the mirror,” noting that many of their regulatory reform proposals fall into the same “Twilight Zone” characterization. He points out that Republicans regularly suggest reducing regulatory burdens for business owners, but rarely focus on assisting workers themselves.

“It’s comical that on the one hand they’re backhanding their Democratic colleagues for not running any new ideas, and yet if you look at the list of things they’re proposing, it’s the same gobbledygook that they’ve been proposing since the Reagan days,” said Hayes.

House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, questioned why Republicans would come out swinging if they are truly looking to have a bipartisan session this year. He said Democrats are willing to work with Republicans on many of the regulatory reform measures, but cautioned his Republican colleagues against taking such a confrontational approach.

“To hit the Democrats, calling the Democrats ‘Twilight Zone,’ that’s not the way to start a session of bipartisanship,” said Ferrandino. “Just because there’s similar a concept to last year doesn’t mean that there’s the exact same language.”

GOP Agenda also includes timber, federal funding and the budget

Another jobs agenda bill proposed by House Republicans specifically addresses the timber industry in Colorado. It would expand the use of beetle-kill timber as a safe raw material for use in Colorado construction and affordable housing projects. Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Collbran, is sponsoring the bill. McNulty points out that the timber industry in Colorado is currently forced to ship beetle-kill timber to other states like Texas and New Mexico, while Colorado is still importing a majority of its lumber.

House Republicans are also focused on limiting the federal government and placing more control in the hands of Colorado by:

• Requiring state departments to disclose opportunities where the state can opt out of federal regulations. House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, is sponsoring that proposal. McNulty says Coloradans deserve “Colorado-specific” solutions, not “one-size-fits-all” approaches mandated by the federal government; and

• Requiring state departments to report any federal funds received and any mandates attached to that federal funding. Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, is sponsoring that bill. McNulty said that there is currently no way to track federal funding in Colorado, and requiring the reporting of federal funds would ensure that federal dollars are spent wisely.

Two other bills proposed by House Republicans address budgeting and government efficiency by:

• Capping the amount of money state departments can charge for administering projects. Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, is sponsoring that proposal. McNulty said sponsors are working to specify the limit; and

• Reinstating the 6 percent government spending limit that Democrats eliminated in 2009. Reps. Don Beezley, R-Broomfield, and Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, are sponsoring that piece of controversial legislation. McNulty views the proposal as a way to tighten controls on amounts that exceed the 6 percent cap. Fifty percent of funds above that limit would be allocated to a state reserve fund that could only be accessed by a two-thirds majority vote of the House and Senate. The remaining 50 percent would be split equally between transportation and capital construction.

Republicans attempted to reinstate the spending cap last year, but Democrats, who control the Senate, killed the legislation. Democrats argue that the spending limit is “arbitrary” and that such a mandate ties the hands of government to fund necessary state services such as education.

Ferrandino said a spending limit might become an even stickier issue following a recent Denver District Court decision that the state’s school finance system violates constitutional funding guarantees and is being underfunded by estimates of more than $4 billion per year. That case is currently being appealed. While Republicans call the spending limit “responsible budgeting,” Ferrandino said it would actually put the state in a more difficult position.

“It’s exactly the opposite; it’s irresponsible budgeting,” said Ferrandino. “We would never be able to make up for the cuts… if they pass that law.”

But McNulty and Republicans remain adamant that the spending limit “really did help keep Colorado on stronger financial footing.” He acknowledges that the bill will likely see strong resistance from Democrats, but McNulty says his caucus is ready to put up the fight.

“I suspect that will be one area where we don’t find that broad bipartisan support,” said McNulty. “But there will be those issues that come up in the legislative session.”

Peter@coloradostatesman.com