Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kelly Brough expressed disappointment with the process for engaging in policy debate during the just-concluded legislative session – for the business community and many others who worked to have their voice heard on issues ranging from oil and gas regulations to family leave time.
“When a process is used to reduce a group’s ability to engage … I think that’s destructive; I think it diminishes trust instead of building trust,” Brough said at State of the State on Friday, a week following the close of the session.
During the session, the Chamber and its members fought to address policy like Senate Bill 188, FAMLI leave, which would have created a state-run family leave program funded by a $1-2 billion payroll tax on employees and employers. There was no guarantee that the program would be actuarially sound, raising alarms for the business community. While the Chamber supports family leave, its concern was that the program was not actuarially studied to ensure funding would be there when people need it most. After concerns were raised by many in the business community, the legislation was amended to a study on such a program.
“I’m very proud to represent a business community that said it’s not just about us, it’s about our workers and the other sectors as much as it is about employers,” Brough said during a conversation with Gov. Jared Polis moderated by Kent Thiry – outgoing CEO of DaVita, which was the presenting sponsor of the event.
Polis agreed that more information on the impacts of such a program are needed: “I was very happy that the outcome allows the time and space to get something of that magnitude right,” he said.
Brough noted that the off-season would be spent working with legislators to build stronger partnerships with legislators.
Despite the challenges, there were wins for the business community in education. The Chamber supported several bills to expand educational attainment opportunities, from a pilot program to allow schools to create innovative learning plans that include more hands-on experiences, to making concurrent enrollment classes transferable at Colorado colleges and universities and offering credit for competencies gained from work-based learning.
But, the challenges remain in a state where 74 percent of the workforce needs a post-secondary credential – the highest education needs in the country. “We’re nowhere near where we should be,” Brough said. “We have to figure out how we close the gap because the pipeline is leaking right now.”
Governor shares reflections of first session
Polis shared his perspective on his first 120-day session with the audience of more than 700 metro area business leaders, noting, “We wasted no time in getting to work.”
He touted the passage of full-day kindergarten, which will start this fall; support for technology like blockchain in surprising industries such as agriculture; and the ballot referral of a question to voters to keep revenue in excess of the constitutional limitations of TABOR (the Taxpayer Bill of Rights). He also praised recent announcements of new jobs coming to the state from Checkr and Amazon.
“Come invest in Colorado!” Polis said.
Chamber turns attention towards ballot
Brough shared the Chamber’s support the TABOR De-Brucing ballot measure and expressed support for finding new streams of revenue to help fund the state’s water plan.
She also shared concerns about a measure in Lakewood that would cap growth in the city.
“Whether you are concerned about water, transportation, air quality or affordable housing, not allowing our state and our region to develop more densely is about the worst possible strategy we could employ,” Brough said.
Bill Lindsay Named Robert Blankenship Heart Award Honoree
Lindsay was recognized with the award, named in memory of Blankenship, the former chief operating officer of the Chamber and a steward of the business community.
Lindsay, principal of Lindsay3, has offered his time as a chair of the Chamber’s board of directors and has provided expertise and advocacy for small business and in navigating health care issues. Although Lindsay was unable to attend the event and accept the award in person, Children’s Hospital Colorado CEO Jena Hausmann read remarks on his behalf.
“I am especially honored and humbled to receive the Robert Blankenship Hear Award,” Hausmann read. “He was both my friend and my mentor, and thus to be the recipient of an award with his name on it is one of the most meaningful honors.”