Sunday, May 10, 2009

Pro-business bills wait gov's signature

Gov. Bill Ritter has a chance to make up for some of the so-called "blows" dealt to the Colorado business community by his pro-labor administration by signing two economic-development bills sent to him by the legislature.

One bill, the Colorado Regional Tourism Act, would provide incentives to economic developers to undertake large "destination" development projects like a NASCAR racetrack or Olympic-game sports venues, future attractions for destination tourists from around the nation and the world.

I have long endorsed Colorado government efforts to attract tourism dollars to the state as well as government effort to attract new business to Colorado.

The second business-friendly bill awaiting a governor's signature would waive a long-standing requirement for a minimum of three bidders on large state procurement contracts, ostensibly to allow the state some flexibility in meeting the deadlines of the nation's economic stimulus package.

Waiting or arranging to get three bids on large state-funded projects can delay their start up, officials told The Denver Post, on whose reporting I am relying on to write this post.

I would normally be wary of the quick passage of such waiver legislation, but I have also been critical in the past of the state's byzantine procurement process, and can imagine the possibility of Colorado missing out on stimulus dollars because it couldn't get an expensive project through the process with dispatch.

Comments from readers on The Post's website were limited this morning to the tourism bill. One of the four comments was vacuous and the other three raised a cry against corporate welfare that is typical of knee-jerk liberal reaction to such economic incentives.

The newspaper quoted University of Colorado economist Jeff Zax saying the legislation was a clear attempt to use public money for private benefit. The story also cited a report by the Bell Policy Center that reportedly shows the state's long-standing enterprise-zone program has failed.

Neither criticism holds up. The tourism bill would use far less state money than private investors would risk to build a venue, and the benefits of a successful public-private venture would swamp the costs. The enterprise-zone effort was miniscule in terms of state dollars, so to criticize it for not having a big return rings somewhat hollow.

Ritter can sign both bills in the knowledge that provisions are made in each for state officials to monitor and prevent his or any future administration from going overboard to favor developers with state money that has no hope of achieving an economic benefit for a large number of the state's citizens.

A metro-area racetrack, even if it were to fail over the long haul (which continued growth of the state's ecnomomy would help prevent), would create small-business jobs among vendors to service it. Olympic games and the longer-lasting venues they often produce in a region also hold out the promise of attracting more tourist dollars over 50 years than the state might attract without them.

Ritter would be wise to sign both bills and prove to his Republican friends that a Democratic governor can be just as healthy for business, perhaps even more so, than one of their own.

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