[Photo: Gaylord Entertainment]
Governor John Hickenlooper may be about to break out the veto pen for the first time this session, and the only second time since he took office last year. The bill in question could speed up how quickly the state awards massive tax subsidies to tourism projects. Backers say the legislation will help spur new construction jobs. But the governor says it may just make a bad program worse. Colorado Public Radio’s Megan Verlee reports.
[The following is a transcript of Megan Verlee's report]
REPORTER MEGAN VERLEE: The state has set aside $50 million a year in tax subsidies to support a half-dozen major tourism projects. One or two proposals are supposed to get funding each year, starting this spring. But Republican Senator Ted Harvey sponsored a bill that would let the state fund all six projects right away.
Sen TED HARVEY (R-Highlands Ranch): "Why would we want to put that off for another year? If there is the ability to create jobs and get people back to work, we should do it as fast as possible."
REPORTER: Harvey's bill, which passed the General Assembly with bipartisan support, would let the Economic Development Commission award as many projects a year as it finds worthy, until it hits the cap of six. This year, six regions submitted tourism projects, including a massive hotel complex in Aurora, an expansion of the Arkansas Riverwalk in Pueblo, and an athletic park in Douglas County.
Governor Hickenlooper wants to roll the program out slowly, to give officials time to learn from any mistakes. He’s also questioning the value of the entire tax break program, known as the Regional Tourism Act. It was set up to support projects that would lure new tourists into the state, instead of competing with current attractions. But outside analysts say in general, these proposals wouldn’t add many new visitors. In an interview with Colorado Public Radio this week, the governor seemed to take particular aim at the Gaylord Hotel proposal in Aurora, which some fear would compete with hotels in downtown Denver.
Gov JOHN HICKENLOOPER: "If you look at the local subsidies and the state subsidies, we’re going to be giving many hundreds of millions of dollars for a company to come in and compete with a lot of our local businesses. I’m not sure that’s bottom-up economic development. That’s not how I think of it."
REPORTER: The governor has until May 7th to decide whether to veto the bill speeding up the tax subsidy awards. Either way, the state will greenlight the first projects in three weeks' time.