There’s no two ways about it: The state of Colorado is in a financial mess at the moment.
Lawmakers have emptied more than a few piggy banks and looked under plenty of couch cushions to scrape up enough money to shore up next year’s budget.
And even after all the begging, borrowing and stealing is over, when the session ends in a little less than a month, the state will still be looking at a shortfall — as little as $212 million, according to Democrats, and as much as $1.3 billion, according to Republicans.
Lawmakers knew heading into this session that they faced the monolithic task of balancing the budget. They’ve worked hard and exhausted every reasonable resource to find money.
But there’s one till they need to keep away from.
Several bills have been submitted that would scale back or eliminate corporate enterprise zone tax credits.
Eliminating these zones will cripple the state’s job-creation efforts just when we need jobs most.
Colorado’s unemployment rate now stands at 7.7 percent, and as consumer confidence is on the mend and retail sales beginning to climb, the jobless numbers are the remaining factor that’s preventing the tide from turning.
Jobs come to Colorado when businesses come to Colorado.
The state is locked in a constant battle with its neighbors to win the attention of business looking to locate in the West.
Colorado has historically held the upper hand. Its business-friendly reputation is already showing signs of strain, thanks to a decision earlier this year to eliminate dozens of tax credits.
The Washington, D.C.,-based Tax Foundation tracks business tax climates from state to state.
It was formed during the Great Depression when national internal revenue collections had climbed 189 percent in a decade.
The organization’s mission is to raise awareness of taxation levels among the 50 states. This year the foundation ranked Colorado 13th for its attractive business tax climate.
How’d our neighbors fare?
Arizona ranked 28th, Utah 10th, Wyoming 2nd, Nebraska 33rd, Kansas 32nd, Oklahoma 31st and New Mexico 23rd.
How will we rank next year?
That’s hard to know but Colorado may have lost valuable ground in the economic development battle.
The job facing lawmakers this year was daunting, and there’s no doubt solutions to the state’s budget problems will leave various parties unhappy.
Arguing against the proposed bills, John McCormick, a lobbyist for Qwest Communications, said his company alone pays about $3 million in taxes of that $11.8 million the state would save if it moved forward.
“This will draw down and divert cash flow from Qwest that we use to pay our employees and invest in capital,” McCormick said.
Even if he’s exaggerating, that’s a gamble best avoided for now.