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12/21/2003

State eyes return of incentives

By Pam Mellskog
The Daily Times-Call

DENVER — Despite the holiday hustle and bustle, Colorado business leaders took time out Thursday morning for a briefing on the 2004 legislative session.

Bob Lee, executive director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and Internet Trade, launched the discussion, named, “What’s in it for business?”

Recent fiscal constraints — a 37 percent budget cut and 25 percent staff layoff — have caused Colorado to pinch pennies, he said.

However, in 2004, he expressed strong support for re-investing in business-friendly programs such as job training dollars, dollars once credited to incoming employers needing to educate the local workforce.

Those incentive dollars are no longer offered due to budget constraints, he said.

“To some companies, high school graduates are just as important as college graduates,” Lee said. “I’m not a big fan of huge incentives, but I think we need some to stay in the game.”

He said he would like to see more support for state-sponsored tourism dollars in 2004. Tourism is the second-largest industry in the state, supporting 200,000 jobs and generating almost $7 billion annually.

“For every dollar we spend on tourism in this state, we get $12.74 back in tax revenue,” Lee said. “That’s $550 million annually.”

With 30 percent more requests for the state brochure and Web site hits up 200 percent in the past year, budget support for this area seems justified, he said.

“Not investing in tourism,” he continued, “is akin to knowing the you’ve got winning lottery numbers a day in advance and not buying a ticket.”

He also suggested that the Legislature would move to make certified capital companies compete for tax credits like venture capital companies do.

“We intend to auction off these tax credits,” Lee said.

House Speaker Lola Spradley also said legislation this year should be geared more toward business objectives to capture a window of opportunity during the economic rebound.

Plenty of companies delayed reinvesting and expansion, she said. By moving to lighten business personal property taxes, she continued, the Legislature could stimulate business.

“That tax stands in the way of us being a good manufacturing state,” Spradley said. “It is a tax on production. It is onerous. ... We can’t forget who is the chicken and who is the egg and who is laying the golden egg — and that is business.”

Pam Mellskog can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 224, or by e-mail at pmellskog@times-call.com.