As Polis, lawmakers target tax breaks, a program that covers 75% of Colorado’s land could be in the crosshairs |

As Polis, lawmakers target tax breaks, a program that covers 75% of Colorado’s land could be in the crosshairs

Brian Eason
Colorado Sun
Colorado has awarded $7.6 million in Enterprise Zone tax credits to Comanche Solar PV in Pueblo County. The 156-megawatt Comanche solar array, shown here on Jan 20, 2019, is the largest solar project in the state of Colorado. (Mike Sweeney, Special to The Colorado Sun)

In the grand scheme of public subsidies for professional sports teams, the $19,306.19 the state gave the Colorado Rockies in 2013 probably isn’t enough to get worked up about.

Neither is the $948.57 credit claimed in 2014 by a Walgreens for $31,000 invested in a Pueblo pharmacy. Or the $529 McDonald’s received in 2016 through its restaurant in Greeley.

But when upwards of 75% of the state’s land is classified as an economic development zone, a hundred dollars here, a thousand dollars there adds up. And while the vast majority of the 16,000-plus tax credits claimed through the program in the last few years were worth less than $10,000, at least 42 companies have been awarded more than $1 million each in public subsidies through the program since July 2013.

As Gov. Jared Polis and the Colorado General Assembly conduct the state’s first broad review of tax breaks in recent memory, there’s perhaps no program that better illustrates the heated debate over tax incentives than the Enterprise Zone program. The sprawling economic development initiative was designed to spur investment in the state’s most needy areas but has expanded to the point that even some supporters question whether it’s fulfilling its intended purpose.

A Colorado Sun analysis of $223 million in tax credits awarded from July 2013 to June 2018 found that the state is often doling out taxpayer dollars without much evidence that each tax credit is producing economic activity that wouldn’t have occurred without public subsidies. In some cases, the state is also pursuing conflicting goals, explicitly incentivizing renewable energy in order to fight climate change on the one hand, while giving nearly twice as much to the fossil fuel industry that cleaner energies are meant to replace.

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