Open business

There is much reason to hope that most of Colorado’s employers will recover from the COVID economy fairly quickly and adeptly. That’s owing largely to their resilience, ingenuity, diligence, perseverance and a host of other attributes. It’ll also involve factors over which they have little control, like market demand, the national economy’s health, and maybe sheer luck.

Their ability to bounce back will benefit as well from any help our legislature and governor can offer. But that’s assuming, of course, the employers aren’t crushed under successive waves of regulations and red tape — by the very politicians who, for now, are purporting to come to their rescue.

And there’s the rub. For all the goodwill expressed toward business — particularly small business — by the single party that holds all the levers of power at the Capitol, it is likely to count for little over the long haul given the same party’s penchant for business-busting policies.

Without a doubt, near-term state and federal assistance is more than welcome and very much in order. Stimulus-related funding and other kinds of intervention have kept some enterprises afloat to date. It has been reassuring to see pledges of further support from the state’s leading policy makers. For example, Gov. Polis’ call for the elimination of the long-loathed business personal property tax on small business in his State of the State address to the legislature this week earned a well-deserved round of applause from the business-friendly Republican minority.

Yet, looking down the road into the longer run, the prospects for business don’t appear as bright — at least, in terms of the state policies being inflicted upon them. The problem is that Democrats in control of the legislature are too faithfully wedded to the misbegotten notion that the creators of most of Colorado’s jobs also must bear the responsibility for addressing a host of other economic and social concerns. And it doesn’t seem to matter how many times they are told that saddling those job creators with such responsibilities will, in fact, kill jobs.

For Exhibit A, look no further than an enlightening report by The Gazette this week about the cost and confusion of a sweeping new employment law. The so-called Equal Pay for Equal Work Act was passed by the legislature and signed by the governor in 2019. It is now taking effect, and it appears few fully understand all its provisions and their implications. A steep learning curve faces even the bureaucrats responsible for enforcing it — not to mention the employers responsible for implementing it in their daily business practices. What’s already clear is that it represents yet another payroll cost that makes it hard to create more jobs.

As is so often the case with such well-intended legislation, the premise of the new law is something everyone can agree on. In this case, providing another check against pay discrimination based on gender and other characteristics. Whether it accomplishes that goal — or was even needed in Colorado in the first place — are in doubt. What is not in doubt is it complicates pay and promotions with extensive notification requirements and other red tape. That makes it more time consuming, task intensive and thus costly to hire and promote in the first place. It also sets up ever more trip wires for litigation. It even can scare some employers away from hiring and promoting — or from locating to Colorado if they were considering it.

“It basically solves a problem that didn’t exist, from our point of view,” Jim Noon, owner of Centennial Container in Denver, said in The Gazette report. “One of the complaints I’ve heard is it takes the flexibility out.”

And here’s the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce’s CEO Kelly Brough on the subject:

“If this doesn’t help get a job, keep a job or advance a job — let’s do it later… Job one should be to get everyone back to work, because the consequences to families will be immeasurable and heartbreaking.”

Brough, a highly influential player in the Denver area’s political and business establishment, also observed: “Some employers might decide it’s too complicated to get into the Colorado market.”

The new law also threatens to be only one of the misguided policies the legislature has in mind for employers as time goes by. And on the heels not only of the pandemic but also of an ill-advised ballot measure passed by voters last fall, mandating a costly leave program on employers, it couldn’t come at a worse time.

Ultimately, Colorado’s policy makers cannot have it both ways. They can trust the many and varied players in our economy — owners, managers and workers alike; in a vast array of industries, professions and economic sectors — to know their markets and pursue their own best economic interests to their mutual benefit.

Or, they can alternately hand-hold and restrain those players until they effectively cripple them and ultimately smother them — and the rest of our state’s economy.