Grading the state Legislature

Now that the dust has settled on the Colorado Legislature’s 2014 session, it’s time for a quick evaluation of how well the state lawmakers treated business this year.

We won’t get into politics except to note that Republicans and Democrats seemed to come away satisfied. And the two parties also felt like the opposite side was likely motivated by this being an election year, with Democrats trying to hold their advantages in the House and Senate while Republicans are intent on regaining the majority control of both chambers.

Legislators had more resources at their disposal, and they added $101.6 million of increased funding to higher education. That should be viewed as a victory for business interests; any help for higher ed should translate into addressing the state’s pressing need to upgrade its workforce.

Likewise, more than $15 million in extra funding went to incentives to help expanding companies and Colorado’s program to lure more movie production to the state.

But the best news in terms of direct impact for businesses would have to be in the form of tax breaks, 11 in all. While those reductions had bipartisan support, the two major parties came away with differing views. Dems made it clear that such business tax help shouldn’t be expected to continue, while Republicans continued to push for less regulation in the future.

For those who might not have seen the post-General Assembly roundups, here’s a quick list:

• Increasing the business personal property tax credit to help companies spending up to $15,000 on equipment (it was $7,000).

• Tax break for investors putting money into early-stage, advanced-industry ventures.

• Property tax credits for businesses hit by fires or floods.

• Increasing tax credits for companies that are expanding and relocating, adding 20 or more positions.

• State income tax exemption for non-Colorado residents who were paid to help with disaster relief.

• Exemption from sales and use tax to cover equipment used on space missions.

• Tax credits for businesses cleaning and redeveloping brownfield sites previously contaminated.

• Sales and use tax exemption for equipment that helps produce bio-gas.

• Income tax credits for vehicles using alternative or low-emission fuels.

• Sales and use tax exemption for equipment involved in producing parts for certain aircraft.

• Income tax credit for companies or individuals giving food to hunger-relief entities.

Most revisions might not have a huge local impact. But some, most notably the credit for business personal property tax on equipment, should make a difference to plenty of small businesses. And the big increase for higher education helps us all.

Several bills supported by the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance were passed, two sending positive signals about the state’s relationship with the military and another cementing Procurement Technical Assistance efforts helping businesses pursuing government contracts. Another bill with local and RBA support, giving a tax break to data-center companies, did not pass but should come up again next year.

Overall, we have to give this session of the Legislature a passing grade. We hear all the time that election years mean nothing gets done in Washington.

Obviously it’s a different story in Denver.