Pro business groups weigh in on election

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A Denver Post survey of 7,000 Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce member companies, with 122 businesses responding, revealed that a Republican-controlled Congress “might be freer to privatize portions of Social Security, help small businesses gain access to health care and extend investment tax credits.” Forty-four percent said a Bush second term is positive for small businesses.

Chuck Berry, the president and chief executive officer of the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, said the doubts that existed about Bush four years ago weren’t a factor in this election. “I think there will be an early effort to make Bush’s tax cuts permanent, and a number of them affect small businesses,” Berry said. “He hasn’t been able to get the votes to push them through, but it could happen now.”

“Bush is a friend to small businesses and has vowed to work on small-business health plans,” said Nancy St. Pierre, the central region media communications specialist for the National Federation of Independent Businesses. “Getting it through the senate is one of the stalling points but we hope it will happen this year.”

Berry agreed that association health plans will be a priority on Bush’s agenda, receiving early consideration from Congress. Tort reform is another of Bush’s hot buttons. Although Berry said the Bush push for tort reform has been geared toward health care, the broader picture cuts out frivolous lawsuits. “Businesses settle because it’s easier,” he said. “I think the relief will come on a federal basis, and it’s necessary for continued economic recovery. We are lucky in that our state laws are more favorable.”

Speaking of state issues, Berry was cautiously optimistic about Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar’s win over Pete Coors. Salazar will become Colorado’s first Democratic senator since Ben Nighthorse Campbell (before he traded the donkey moniker for the elephant) in 1992.

“Salazar is a moderate Democrat and not a typical big government liberal,” Berry said. “To use a lawyer’s phrase, the jury is out.” Meanwhile, Berry hopes that Colorado business leaders and Salazar can meet in the near future to discuss issues related to small businesses.

One of those issues is the business personal property tax. Senator Bruce Cairns, representing the south Aurora district, led the personal property tax interim committee, which was authorized by state lawmakers in 2004. Cairns was defeated on Nov. 2, and Berry said most of the Democratic legislators were not proponents of the movement to phase out the business personal property tax. Colorado’s business personal property tax amounts to more than a half-billion dollars per year.

“With the Democrats now in control, I am not as optimistic about a bill to eliminate the tax,” Berry said. “Most of those types of bills were pushed by Republicans. The Democrats will be skeptical about considering bills designed for tax credits and economic development. We are hoping the Democrats are not going to promote increased business regulations, and we don’t want to see efforts to repeal laws that cut back on issues like worker’s compensation reform.”

St. Pierre said the business community is solid in Colorado with leaders such as Sens. Ron May and Andy McElhany. “Salazar’s wife is a small-business owner, but he is not an advocate of association health plans that allow small businesses to pool across state lines,” St. Pierre said. “I think we have an education curve with the newer folks to make sure they understand the role of small businesses in Colorado.”

Berry and St. Pierre addressed the renewable energy bill – Amendment 37 – that passed in Colorado. “If you read that bill carefully, it says the public utilities commission cannot authorize tax hikes for residential customers, but it says nothing about rate increases for non-residential customers,” Berry said. “It could mean increased utility costs for Colorado manufacturers. We were hoping, rather than instituting mandates, the market (for renewable energy resources) would develop itself.”

“Any time there is a mandate or an increase in utility costs, it affects small business owners,” St. Pierre said.

And Tim Jackson, the former executive director of the Colorado NFIB chapter (Jackson left NFIB the first week in November to assume a position with the Colorado Independent Auto Dealers Association), wrapped up his last week with the NFIB by saying, “I think, based on voting records, that it’s going to be much more challenging (legislatively) for businesses in Colorado.”

- Marylou.Doehrman@csbj.com