Bills aimed at saving money for Colorado families, businesses, and mental health professionals cleared a hurdle in the House Finance Committee last week. If passed by the legislature as a whole, the three bills could amount to $60 million in annual savings for Coloradans and provide some measure of relief from economic inflation.
The first of the three bills, titled Sales Tax Assistance for Small Businesses, allows small businesses to retain more of the sales taxes they collect, and is expected to save Colorado companies more than $5 million in 2023. Sponsors are hopeful that the legislation will leave more money in the pockets of small retailers who bore the brunt of the pandemic-driven economic downturn. The committee passed the measure by a unanimous vote of those in attendance.
“With costs rising for families and businesses, we’re focused on saving people and businesses money however we can,” said Rep. Barbara McLachlan (D-Durango), one of the bill’s prime sponsors, noting that the savings would allow small businesses to put more money toward “rent, salaries or whatever they need.”
The second of the committee’s savings-focused bills was brought by Rep. Mary Young (D-Greeley) and tailored to reduce license fees for mental health professionals for the next two years. The bill is projected to save individuals $3.7 million on licenses in 2023.
Young, a school psychologist, argued that her bill, titled License Registration Fee Relief for Mental Health Professionals, would provide savings for the people of a profession that carried an enormous burden during the pandemic. “We’re doing what we can to support these essential workers by directing savings to reduce fees when they apply for or renew their licenses.”
Despite the bill having no registered lobbying opposition, and a broad coalition of supporters including Denver Health and the Colorado Rural Healthcare Center, alongside various mental health and foster care advocacy organizations, all four of the committee’s Republican members voted against it.
The most high-profile bill heard at the committee – and the one promising the most savings to Coloradans – was the Paid Family Leave Premium Reduction bill, which would significantly reduce the premiums employers must pay each year as part of Colorado’s Paid Family & Medical Leave Act. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Yadira Caraveo (D-Thornton) and Rep. Matt Gray (D-Broomfield), is projected to save Colorado businesses more than $57 million in 2023 alone.
Colorado voters overwhelmingly passed a paid family and medical leave ballot initiative in 2020, in a campaign led in part by Gray and Sen. Faith Winter (D-Westminster). Though conservative organizations spent nearly $1 million in opposition to it, the initiative ultimately won approval by a margin of more than 500,000 votes, or 15% of the total turnout. The ballot initiative even won voter approval in counties represented by half of the House Finance Committee’s four Republican members (Pueblo and El Paso Counties, represented by Reps. Luck and Sandridge, respectively).
Only 21% of Coloradans oppose the program, according to a 2020 9News poll.
Still, Colorado’s elected Republicans remain mostly united in their opposition to the program–opposition which was on display at last week’s House Finance Committee.
When the four Republican members of the committee were presented with a bill to save Coloradans $57 million with a tweak to a popular program – a program passed overwhelmingly by even some of their own voters – none of them asked a question. None of them made a comment. All of them voted no.