Business leaders across the state of Colorado met on Zoom Wednesday afternoon to discuss proposed bills that state lawmakers hope to push through. But without speaking to businesses throughout the community, the leaders felt lawmakers weren’t hearing their pleas before trying to rush the bills.
Diane Schwenke, CEO and president of the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, was on the call and shared data she compiled by polling 176 local businesses in Mesa County:
- 30% of small businesses say their furloughs are becoming permanent, turning into layoffs
- 50% of businesses have seen significant losses in income
- 20% say they have just five months left of continuing operations
- 92% believe businesses will never return to normal
Schwenke during the call said manufacturers in the valley have written to the senators, but later came back with the belief the senators “aren’t listening.”
“These are real businesses. These are folks that could and want and need our recovery,” she said.
She described the business legislation as the “most damaging businesses have seen in years.”
“Our message is loud and clear to the lawmakers. Be true to your promise to us,” she said.
The bills would increase state revenues by 33%, said Don Childears, president and CEO of the Colorado Bankers Association in the Denver area. However, costs for businesses will increase significantly due to the nature of the bills, which state:
- Limiting a business's ability to raise prices
- Payment of unemployment insurance and sick leave
- Bars can sell alcoholic beverages for take-out/delivery
- Health insurance and workers’ compensation, both COVID-related
The bills would lead to $4.1 billion in negative economic impact, and cost businesses $1 billion. Childears added that 100,000 small businesses in Colorado borrowed from the federal government’s Payroll Protection Program. But, since the program is a loan and not a grant or stimulus, businesses who borrowed will have to repay the debt, and they will only have two years to do so, Childears said.
“Many businesses thought the loan would be forgiven, but they will end up with significant debt,” Childears said on the call.
For businesses that are on the brink of failure, and others that are having a difficult time rehiring and maintaining workers, the debt could ensure some stores will never reopen, he added.
Dirk Draper, president and CEO of the Colorado Chamber of Commerce, hosted the Zoom meeting and shared his thoughts on the pending legislation.
Draper said when the state legislature planned to come together for a second session, there was a commitment made that there would be a focus on COVID recovery and discussions would be had on how to help the Colorado economy rebuild.
However, Draper said there is “concern they’re not living up to that promise on these final days” and asked the legislature to be “mindful of the challenges businesses have navigating this environment.”
Additionally, farmers and ranchers have seen a considerable impact on their market and supply chain due to COVID-19 and face additional drops in commodity prices, shared Shawn Martini, vice president of advocacy for the Colorado Farm Bureau.
“Our members have looked at the legislation and have shared many of the same concerns,” Martini said during the meeting.
He also said there are many food producers who have lost money for multiple years in a row. Some are simply not making money, while others aren’t breaking even.
“Not a good time to be passing significant legislation that places such a burden on farmers and ranchers,” Martini said.
Loren Furman, senior vice president of the Colorado Chamber of Commerce, was at the Colorado Capitol during the meeting. She explained that with the bills passing so quickly, it makes it nearly impossible for businesses to recover after the pandemic. The tax relief that small businesses rely on will be removed through a last minute policy bill, which Furman said is something that is being testified against.
During the latter half of the meeting, Furman was asked if she had shared her concerns over the bills to lawmakers.
“Yes, there’s been effort to maintain some decorum,” Forum said.
“A majority of the party feels the bills are a priority,” she later added. “Amending them will be challenging.”
Tony Gagliardi, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, was another speaker during the meeting who shared his thoughts.
“Business owners face a multitude of factors,” Gagliardi said, but later added, “small businesses are not afraid to man the trenches and fight back, and do everything to ensure our survival,” he said.
Since legislation is scheduled to adjourn on Friday, the leaders remain hopeful lawmakers can come back for a special session for further evaluation of the bills after gathering community feedback.