By Don Knox, STATE BILL COLORADO
The complaint going around Colorado’s capitol, this year and every year, is politicians don’t create jobs. Companies do.
I’ve found that argument simplistic. And wrong. Yes, private businesses create jobs — lots of them. And thank goodness they always will. But a new airport, such as Denver International, or a new ballpark, such as Coors Field, is bottled lightning for the economic-development set. Rules encouraging or providing for new industries, say, residential solar installation or medical marijuana, are just as electrifying. Politicians make those things happen. Always have. Always will.
A politician’s pen can do the terrible reverse, too: cost jobs. But let’s not go there.
With such powerful job-creating capabilities coursing through their veins, our politicians should be brimming with ideas for legislation that would encourage a new development here, enable a new industry there. Alas, it hasn’t been the case. And to read a wonderfully well-documented report in The Aurora Sentinel recently, it’s still not the case.
The Sentinel has done its readership a great public service by polling its eight hometown legislators on bills they’re carrying during the 2011 General Assembly opening next week. Reporter Sara Castellanos details legislation, proffered by both Republicans and Democrats, covering a considerable range, including election law, fee creation, gubernatorial appointments and illegal immigration.
There are 31 bills. But there is not one that you could look at and say this will create 1,000 jobs in Colorado this year. Or 100 jobs. And if the 2011 legislature is all about “jobs, jobs, jobs,” haven’t we failed the people already?
Here are some legislation examples reported by The Sentinel:
There is a bill from a freshman Democrat that would make nonpartisan the races for county coroners. Another would stiffen children’s wellness requirements to address childhood obesity. A bill from a veteran Republican would reduce state funding for cities that go easy on illegal immigrants. Another would prohibit advertisers using state funds from featuring a state, local or national elected official in the advertisement.
From a veteran Democrat comes a bill that would allow local governments to assess a fee to waste management companies that use the city’s roads to transport solid waste. She also has a bill that would prevent specialty license plates — particularly those with a focus on supporting public education — from expiring. From a two-term Republican there is a bill that would dissuade people from stealing and pawning scrap metals from construction sites. From a legislator across the aisle in the upper house comes a bill to clarify that it’s a public harm if a business defrauds a consumer. She also brings a bill that would force nonprofit social welfare organizations to disclose their political donations and “crack down on anonymity in the money trail.”
These bills may be big ideas, but they are not big job-creating ideas. They are not job-creating ideas at all. Perhaps in a blisteringly good economy, we would have the luxury of time to debate the merits of such bills. But this is not a blisteringly good economy.
Gov. Bill Ritter had it right earlier this week when he took a newly created job — yes, there was one — at Colorado State University. He insisted that the new post be financed with private dollars from foundations because government dollars were precious during “this awful recession.”
This awful recession. This anemic recovery. Colorado has lost 140,000 jobs over two years. By one prominent economist’s forecast, it will add just 10,100 jobs in 2011. That’s 41 net new jobs each business day, or 28 net new jobs a day if you count weekends.
Twenty-eight net new jobs a day will not put the masses of Colorado’s unemployed back to work.
Twenty-eight net new jobs a day is a disgrace for a state as vital and as entrepreneurial as ours.
To be fair, some of the proposed legislation from our east-side metro legislators would reduce some government spending, The Sentinel reports. Reduced government spending would free money up for other public purposes, at least leaving taxes and fees where they are. This is good. This would preserve some government and perhaps even private-sector jobs. But these bills, few and far between, are, if anything, job sustainers. They are not job creators.
They are not the big ideas Colorado needs.
Don Knox edits State Bill Colorado and Law Week Colorado. He is a former business editor of The Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News.