Legislature ready with first bills

DENVER - Colorado's high-tech economy and struggling working families will be the beneficiaries of the first two bills introduced in the state Legislature in 2013.

House Bill 1001, to be introduced when the Legislature convenes Wednesday, will offer up to $15 million in grants to companies doing advanced research in aerospace, bioscience, electronics, energy and other industries.

Senate Bill 1 would make a trio of tax credits available to some 370,000 working families.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, his fellow Democrats and a Republican representative announced the advanced technology bill Monday.

"Having a bill like this really does help distinguish us from other states," Hickenlooper said.

In past years, Colorado has struggled to compete for business with other states that tend to offer much more lucrative tax credits to lure companies.

HB 1001 would offer three different kinds of grants, worth up to $500,000 per company. Funding will come from an existing bioscience program, and possibly from a revamp of Colorado's enterprise zone tax credits that legislators will tackle this year.

Separately, Senate Democrats are pushing a bill to expand tax credits for the working poor.

SB 1 broadens the reach of the earned income tax credit, the child tax credit and the child and dependent care tax credit. All three of them offer tax refunds for families below a certain income level.

The sponsor, Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, said the bill would put money in the hands of people who need it most - and who will spend it locally.

"I see it as a very important investment in working families. I see it as an economic development tool," Kefalas said.

Currently, Colorado offers the earned income tax credit only when there is a budget surplus - something that hasn't happened since 2001.

Kefalas said budget experts are still working out how much the bill will cost the state. A slowly recovering economy is starting to bring more money into state coffers, but the Legislature is far from flush with cash.

By designating the two bills at the first of the year, Democratic leaders are trying to send the message that they remain focused on the economy. However, the 120-day legislative session is likely to be dominated by social issues like marijuana legalization, gun control and, possibly, repealing the death penalty.