April 20 Town Hall: Economic Legislation Comes Full Circle
We held a town hall meeting at the Boulder Chamber of Commerce on Saturday, April 20, and I was pleased to see more than 50 people in attendance. Holding a meeting devoted to issues surrounding jobs and the economy also gave me a chance to tell my story about economic issues we've tackled during my five sessions as a senator.
I was elected in 2008, as Colorado joined the rest of the nation in the grips of one of the worst financial crises most Americans have ever seen. Before being sworn in, I was named a member of the state's Joint Select Committee on Job Creation and Economic Growth, which was formed to help Colorado weather the economic storm. Committee members introduced 24 bills related to jobs and the economy in 2009, and Gov. Bill Ritter signed 18 of them into law. At least two of the bills I sponsored that year have a connection to bills I'm working on in 2013.
In 2009, I sponsored SB 09-031, which was designed to provide grants for early-stage companies in the field of clean technology. The bill passed, but no funding stream was identified. In 2011, we passed SB 11-047, which created a funding mechanism for grants in bioscience and clean technology. This year, we're working on HB 13-1001, which would create a grant fund for seven industry categories known as "Advanced Industries." In all three cases, I was proud to sponsor the bills because they were designed to help companies that provide good-paying jobs and societal benefits move to the next levels of success.
Also in 2009, I was the Senate sponsor of HB 09-1001, which set up a system of tax credits for companies bringing at least 20 new jobs to Colorado, or five new jobs in rural areas. The program has been credited with incenting firms to establish hundreds of new jobs in Colorado so far. In 2013, I am the Senate sponsor of HB 13-1287, which would extend the program created temporarily through 09-1001 for another five years.
At Saturday's town hall, I spoke about the 2009 bills that seem to have come full circle, but we also had plenty of time to talk about new bills from this year. For example, I am the Senate sponsor of HB 13-1003, which would allow our state Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) to set up an "economic gardening" pilot program. The program would provide high-level strategic counseling to medium-sized Colorado companies that create exportable products. All in all, I am sponsoring at least 10 bills this year related to our economic health, and I am confident that many of them will be signed into law.
However, it takes more than economic legislation to foster a healthy economy. I have long been a strong education supporter, partially because it takes educated and skilled people to run a successful established or innovative business. This year, I am a co-prime sponsor of SB-213, which would revamp our K-12 school finance system. The goals established in this bill include providing greater equality of funding between richer and poorer school districts, boosting funding for full-day kindergarten and preschool, and to eliminate a "negative factor" from our current school finance formula that has been used to allow cuts to our education budgets in recent years. We took the opportunity Saturday to discuss this year's bill and how a new School Finance Act can improve our educational system on a statewide basis.
Also, I am the chair of this year's Senate Transportation committee. Transportation is obviously important to the economy in a number of ways. It's how we move hard goods, tourists, employees and customers. A good system can help ensure that people reach their destinations in a timely manner, while a poor system leaves people stuck in traffic and wasting time. It is also a major job provider and source of economic activity when we are able to do construction projects, and we handed out literature at Saturday's meeting from CDOT regarding summer and ongoing projects. This year, about 50 projects in the metro area and along I-70 will account for about $940 million worth of new construction.
During Saturday's meeting, at least 20 attendees took the opportunity to ask questions or offer comments. Topics included fracking, water conservation, new marijuana laws, election reform, TABOR, health care, FasTracks, mental health and more. We had a lively discussion on some very important issues, and as always the people of Senate District 18 demonstrated how informed and engaged they are when it comes to civic affairs.