Keep jobs at home, keep businesses at ease

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The Keep Jobs in Colorado Act appears to have considerable support as it passed the House Monday at the Statehouse.

We appreciate suggested improvements touted by the act, House Bill 1292, co-sponsored by state Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, but give pause to some of its measures long-term.

We agree with Kerr that changes are needed in penalties for companies that do not meet a threshold of requiring 80 percent of all taxpayer-backed state project labor be conducted by Colorado workers.

Kerr noted the 80 percent requirement has been on the books since 1933 but a jail penalty for non-complying company owners has not been enforced.

We agree virtually every law should have teeth, so it makes sense to amend the law by replacing jail time with civil fees for violations and retooling the compliance process.

The Keep Jobs in Colorado Act also aims to:

• Clamp down on outsourcing of jobs overseas in state contracts with beefed up disclosures on state contractors who use second-party vendors;

• Provide stricter enforcement of out-of-state bid preferences to make sure Colorado companies have all legal advantages available;

• Expand the so-called “best value” metrics related to in-state employment and domestically produced materials for contracts that are not co-mingled with federal funds;

• Create a central tracking system for state projects — in practice tracking the most costly materials in public works projects, such as items made from iron, steel and related manufactured goods.

In light of these values, we recognize the arguments of some Republicans and others that it can be a difficult process ensuring that projects involve Colorado-based materials.

In one of our stories earlier this month, Rep. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, stated flatly there is “no way in this free market system that everyone is going to be truthful.”

Sad but true.

Further we acknowledge it is highly problematic for contractors to know and document the sources of all materials. As for tracking payroll, that is not as much of a challenge, but more paperwork means increasing staff time and cost for contractors. 

Overall, the act’s key measures can in some ways strengthen the state in the current challenging economic climate. The measures match the times, although it’s surely dicey work because making laws to regulate business — whether it’s incentives or tariffs or common taxes, and so on — will always be complicated and questionable to free market purists.

For now, we support the general ideas, but long-term, we harbor reservations because the effort to stay local and secure jobs works against the pressing global marketplace and its competitive realities of comparative advantage — when one country can produce products or provide labor more efficiently than another.

Given that the state employment rate decreased from about 8.2 percent a year ago to 7.1 percent last month, we’d like to see Colorado in a trend to entertain fewer laws that mean increased government protocols and processes for business. 

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