DENVER — After partisan shenanigans last week over one of three bills aimed at reforming Colorado’s system of enterprise zone tax credits, true bipartisanship broke out Wednesday as one of those measures sailed through a House committee.
The 12-1 vote by the House Finance Committee in favor of House Bill 1241, which would force the state to review enterprise zones every five years, was nothing short of a Leap Day miracle.
Enterprise zones were developed in the 1980s to encourage economic development in depressed areas; but an analysis last year by the Denver Post found a bloated system with businesses — oil and gas companies, mostly — taking advantage of the tax credits.
According to the Post’s study, tax credits in enterprise zones, which now cover 70 percent of the state, cost Colorado taxpayers nearly $133,000 per job created.
“There’s ample evidence that out enterprise zone system has become bloated and inefficient,” said House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, the bill’s sponsor.
“We have to do something to make sure the state’s economic development dollars are producing the highest return on investment.”
While all but one Republican on the House Finance Committee voted for Ferrandino’s bill, the GOP’s seven-member majority flexed its muscle in killing two other proposals addressing enterprise zone tax credits that were brought by his Democratic colleagues.
Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Gunbarrel, offered a bill that would have put a $500,000 cap on the enterprise-zone income tax credits a company could take annually; and Rep. Jeanne Labuda, D-Denver, had pushed similar legislation that would have set that cap at $250,000 annually, thereby affecting far more businesses (just 14 oil and gas outfits filed in 2010 for a tax credit higher than $500,000).
Last week, in a bit of parliamentary gamesmanship, House Republicans tried — and failed — to let Labuda’s bill pass.
The move was meant as payback to Gov. John Hickenlooper, who Republicans had asked to publicly oppose the enterprise zone bills but who remained neutral. The idea was that allowing the bill to pass would force Hickenlooper into a tough choice on whether to veto or sign a bill that would effectively be taking tax credits away from Colorado businesses.
When Labuda’s bill came up for a vote, three Republican committee members left the chamber and purposely missed the vote — thinking the six Democrats on the committee would all vote yes and that the measure would pass on a 6-4 vote.
Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, voted against the bill, which stalled 5-5- and was tabled for a week.
Following the shenanigans, one Democrat told FOX31 that they “hadn’t ever seen that kind of pettiness before”; and a Hickenlooper staffer remarked that the failed maneuver was “funny.”