Hickenlooper would defy state Dems and reinstate tax-free ‘enterprise zones’

COMMERCE CITY– Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper presented his “road map” (Video part 1(Video part 2) for Colorado job creation and economic growth last week. The road map puts him at odds with some Democratic members of the Colorado legislature who took pains this session to repeal the state’s so-called “enterprise zones” where businesses are exempted from paying taxes. Hickenlooper told the Colorado Independent that he strongly supported enterprise zones as a way to spur new business activity and that as governor he would look to promote them as a first order of business.

Speaking at the new home of the Rocky Mountain Soda Co., Hickenlooper agreed that businesses had to “chip in” during a budget crisis where state revenues have fallen by billions but that, as soon the state budget could absorb it, he was “absolutely interested” in reinstating enterprise zone exemptions the state recently cut . “That should be one of the highest priorities,” he said.

The Denver Mayor has used enterprise zones to spur growth in the state capital and he said they would be part of a statewide incentive package to lure new jobs to Colorado “as quickly as possible.”

Lawmakers such as Reps. Joel Judd, Jerry Frangas, Paul Weissmann and Jeanne Labuda argued in the spring that the state wasn’t getting enough bang for their buck from businesses taking advantage of the tax breaks. They supported HB 1396 to do away with the enterprise zones.  

Hickenlooper said that any resistance in the legislature would be met with reliable data.

“This is the 21st century, the key to all of these issues is how you measure them,” Hickenlooper said. “[Economic leaders] are measuring not just how many people did they talk to but what are the outcomes of those discussions, what kind of resources were provided, and how many jobs are created– the size of those jobs and the impact of those jobs. I think it will not be an impossible thing to tie that [kind of data] to the enterprise zones.”

He argued that the enterprise zones really do “lead to more jobs that really do lead to the revenue to get more money for schools.”

The Hickenlooper economic plan is part incentive package, part marketing campaign, and part long term relationship building effort. It calls for small communities to work with a nine-region system to create proposals that would influence a larger comprehensive state plan to “expand, attract and retain business.”

The plan calls for development zones but it also would ask small banks and the federal government to loosen restrictions on capital for small business loans, for example.

Hickenlooper said bringing the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) back on board with Colorado after staff cuts would be a primary objective.

“They have not been able to process and be as supportive as they need to be. But the one thing we need here across the state is access to capital. I think the state could be a cheerleader for that and go to the federal government and say You are spending all this money on stimulus yet you are cutting back SBA, which is the life blood of our small businesses.”

Hickenlooper said the money for his plan was not yet fully accounted for in the budget. He said the plan is prioritized, though, so certain parts, such as the enterprise zones, would come on line quickly as the economy recovers.

Hickenlooper said his campaign had spoken with business owners and citizens across the state and had assembling 200 experts to help generate economic activity.

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