Moving Forward on Tax Reform

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I have a philosophy of a government that works.

If a program works keep it.

If, a program doesn't work scrap it. Kind of naive, as even the most worthless of governmental ideas has passionate supporters. Passionate enough to hire a phalanx of articulate respected lobbyists to tell you why something that doesn't work is essential for the economy.

Every time an advocate for the developmentally disabled, the poor or those seeking a second chance come before the legislature we pointedly ask if the programs they seek funding for work. Let me tell you, "no proof, no money" is the rule.

That rule is what I am hoping the legislature will apply to tax credits and other tax incentives.

Every tax credit or exemption listed below has been around over a decade. Business argues elimination of their exemption or credit reduces economic activity and jobs. That's true. Every alternative, cutting mental health, community colleges, K-12 education, does the same. Either way we go the economic impact is the same.

1. Severance tax property tax credit.

2. Enterprise zone credits and exemptions.

3. Sales tax credit for components incorporated in manufactured items. Business argues the final product is subject to sales tax, so exemption elimination creates a double tax. But most manufactured items are shipped out of state and never subject to Colorado sales tax.

4. Building construction components. Again the finished building is never subject to sales tax. Individual cities, e.g., Denver, do tax construction components and still have plenty of construction.

5. A variety of agricultural exemptions, e.g., bull semen.

Every one of these costs millions and millions of dollars; dollars that could go to proven programs for people who suffer from mental illness. We know they work because the evidence they have shown is incontrovertible. For example, cutting Community Mental Health funding in our last recession immediately drove up our corrections costs.

I am a liberal Democrat but I am not a knee-jerk liberal. I'm pro-business as I know what fuels the economy in west Denver are the thousands of small businesspeople who work hard, have businesses that bring strength and character to our community and put people to work. There is no way I would ever do anything to damage these small businesses or Colorado's reputation for being pro-business.

But, everyone needs to show that the dollars we spend on them works. If tax credits work, let's expand them. If there is no proof that they work, then, let's get rid of them.

I'm chairing a hearing of the Joint Finance Committee along with my colleague Senator Paula Sandoval at 9:00 a.m. Thursday, November 12. I'm going to try to be like Jack Webb on the old Dragnet (ask your folks about it) and ask for just the facts. The business community, community activists, those from the academic world and average citizens will be asked to give the facts about these programs

You are welcome to attend this hearing or send along your thoughts and ideas. You can reach me at; 2222 S. Albion St., # 100, Denver, CO 80222; or 303-830-8881.

As a society we cannot take away essential programs that help the poor the elderly and the disabled unless there is a showing that spending the money elsewhere accomplishes the goals the programs were set up to achieve. My hope is that my colleagues with help from folks like those who read the Huffington Post will do the right thing by the people of Colorado.