Chamber to square off with state regulations

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Election-year tension and redrawn legislative districts could make the 2012 session of the Colorado General Assembly more contentious than usual.

The Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce is aware of that and plans to focus on efforts to break the state government’s regulatory stranglehold on business and free up the capital businesses need to create jobs and thrive.

An election-year and redistricting combination historically leads to a stalemate, said Stephannie Finley, Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce president of governmental affairs and public policy.

“We don’t really look for a lot to get done this session,” she said. “Republicans are upset about maps that place two incumbents in competition for a single seat. It’s an election year — that makes it hard to work together.”

The challenges to cooperate are likely to persist even though both parties support Gov. John Hickenlooper’s vision of regulatory reform.

And that’s where the Chamber is concentrating its energy.

“He gets it,” Finley said. “He wants to create a business friendly environment for the state — and not have all these regulations that get in the way. He definitely has our support there.”

Finley said Chamber CEO Dave Csintyan helped get the reform effort started.

“So it has our support” she said. “We have a particular interest in getting those regulations changed.”

Aside from regulatory reform, Finley said the Chamber will watch state education and its normal core objectives of military and tourism.

Action that can be taken at the state level to free up capital is limited, because most hurdles are from the federal government.

“We know these are federal regulations, for the most part,” she said. “But it seems the state can push a culture to start the conversation.”

Small businesses need capital, she said, and banks are still unwilling to lend it. Part of that reluctance stems from federal rules that say banks must keep more money in reserve.

“We have businesses that have great ideas, great talent, a lot skill,” Finley said. “And they can’t get the money needed to get started — money that generates jobs.”

Finley said the Chamber also wants to generate more big ticket tourism events.

“We want to create more events like the Pro-Cycling Challenge,” she said. “That’s a pretty big deal, it creates jobs, brings money.”

She also is aware that jobs and a healthy workforce start with education, an area where Colorado has many challenges, such as low graduation, matriculation and literacy rates.

“Third grade reading is a key indicator,” she said. “We’re going to be pushing bills that help increase that literacy rate. But it’s foolish to try to boil the whole ocean — so we’re focusing solely on that indicator.”

Finley said the Chamber’s will serve to remind lawmakers of the military’s importance to Colorado.

“A few years ago, the Pentagon told us that Colorado had a giant wart on its face because of the attitude in the state legislature,” she said. “Some of it was due to the Pinon Canyon issue, but mostly, it was just the bad way it was handled.”

In contrast, some legislators have raised concerns about low-level flights that could come when the new Combat Aviation Brigade arrives at Fort Carson. But, Finley said, those concerns were handled in a much different manner.

“They were handled without the animosity toward the military that we’ve seen in the past, just a few years ago,” she said. “We think that’s a good sign — and we want to keep the focus on the military positive.”

That’s because the military is seeking to downsize — and that could mean fewer soldiers and fewer missions. In a city like Colorado Springs, that could equal job losses.

“So, we continue to discuss the positives that the military brings,” she said. “I think the governor and the legislature gets it now.”

The Chamber stays abreast of bills through its Legislative Watch Council, which meets at 7:30 a.m. every Friday during the session, usually at the downtown Denny’s restaurant, 315 W. Bijou St.