BY FREDA MIKLIN
On December 14, the Common Sense Institute (CSI) held its first annual Free Enterprise Summit in the third-floor dome of the AMG National Trust Bank in Greenwood Village. AMG President and CEO Earl Wright, who is also co-founder and board chair of CSI, told the 100 people in attendance that CSI’s work began ten years ago out of “concerns about public policy issues that our state was going through.” He shared that CSI published 40 relevant reports, including suggested steps toward a solution, about public policy issues in 2021. Four of those reports, Wright said, addressed the issues of housing prices, transportation, homelessness and crime rates in Colorado.
Kristin Strohm, president and CEO of CSI, told the audience that, as the state continues to recover from the impact of the health pandemic, the key to economic expansion is a free enterprise system “where individuals looking to provide for their families as well as businesses striving to meet the needs of their community, together, and free from intrusive oversight, lead to fuller bellies, bigger paychecks, and greater economic prosperity.” She continued, “The free enterprise system has proven to be the greatest economic engine in history and has lifted billions of people out of extreme poverty.” Strohm defined CSI as an organization founded “to champion Colorado’s economy and to be an educational resource providing rigorous research on the impacts, policies, initiatives and laws that ultimately shape our lives.”
The 2022 Colorado Free Enterprise Report, distributed at the meeting by Chris Brown, CSI VP of Policy & Research, rated our state in eight different areas on a historical performance scale from one to five, then looked at the outlook for the future in each area. You can find the complete report, with detailed explanations of the ratings, at https://commonsenseinstituteco.org/2021-colorado-free-enterprise-report/.
CSI’s findings, as reported, were:
In a panel discussion moderated by Vince Bzdek, editor of The Gazette newspaper, Loren Furman, president-elect of the Colorado Chamber of Commerce, said she was “hoping for some restraint in the next legislative session.” She also said she hoped that Governor Polis’ proposal to use $600 million in federal funds to backfill the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund, which is in a deficit position due to high claims and fraud, will be passed by the legislature to avoid unreasonable rate increases being imposed on employers.
Dave Davia, CSI board member and CEO of the Rocky Mountain Mechanical Contractors Association, said that the Free Enterprise Report is helpful to Colorado contractors because good data leads to good decisions. He also said the report helps us to “look at entrepreneurism and free enterprise differently.” On the issue of homelessness, Davia said, “I’ve been involved with homelessness since the 1990s,” and like so many, “I don’t know what the answer is or what the solution is but the priorities that have been made, from a public policy perspective, are not producing better results.”
J.J. Ament, new president of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce (DMC), pointed to, “The impact that policy can have on (economic) data,” noting that relevant data is crucial to good policy decisions. He said that after our state “had it so good for so long, COVID has awakened us to what happens to communities when you just turn off the private sector.” He made the distinction that it was “our response to the health emergency that created the economic crisis,” compared to the economic crisis of 2008 that was the result of financial turmoil. He said we have lost “some of the collaborative spirit” between business and government in recent years, something that should be corrected. At the DMC, Ament said, “We are talking to businesses that are here about how we’re going to help them stay here and expand and grow. We’re talking to businesses that are elsewhere about whether they should move to Colorado for that next expansion or whether it should be in Utah, Phoenix or Texas.” Ament pointed out that good data leads to good policymaking and good policies lead to retaining and attracting new businesses.
Debbie Brown, president of the Colorado Business Roundtable, talked about how her organization had partnered with CSI in preparing the Road to Recovery report last year. That report outlined a roadmap for the state’s businesses to come back from the impact of the pandemic. She said that effort focused on 1) creating a competitiveness agenda; 2) reimagining tomorrow’s work force; and 3) infrastructure. The challenges facing large companies, she said, are concerns about labor costs, the supply chain, inflation, and potentially increased federal tax rates. On the plus side, Brown said that, “Everyone is planning on hiring if they can find workers to take the jobs.” CEOs expect increased sales and a higher overall GDP in 2022, along with “additional capital investment,” Brown said. She posed the rhetorical question, “At what point do we stop the (federal) spending and let the free market return to life?”
Tom Brook, president of Denver South, said, “We have long been advocates for improving transportation funding…We have made, collectively, throughout the state, a massive investment in infrastructure that is critically important to commerce, to our quality of life, whether we’re going skiing up I-70 or bringing in goods and services through DIA….With the state’s gas tax not increasing in almost 40 years, we have to decide where we’re going to deploy those resources to get to a more equitable distribution of those funds.” After talking about the coming electrification of vehicles, Brook said, “We collaborate with RTD and we think a strong public transit is going to be a vital component to this.” He also talked about the first-mile-last-mile issue, noting that “there are some great innovative possibilities” available to solve the problem. He pointed to the I-25 and Belleview intersection as a location where a solution to the present traffic bottleneck, which the localities of Denver, Greenwood Village, the State of Colorado and Arapahoe County have not been able to agree on, would address both congestion and the reduction of greenhouse gases.