Marijuana, military concerns and healthcare funding topped the bill of Aurora-specific policy items discussed at a lobbying session pointed toward Colorado interests in Washington, D.C., last month.
A coalition of more than 100 business executives from across the state traveled to The District June 9 in an attempt to wheedle federal legislators into voting for issues that could expand and protect the Colorado economy.
For the past several years, Accelerate Colorado has made the annual pilgrimage to act as the policy voice box for the group’s 32 member organizations, which include the City of Aurora, Arapahoe County and Adams County. The lobbying group operates as an affiliate of the Aurora Economic Development Council.
Attendees met with the entirety of Colorado’s congressional delegation, as well as several other federal executives from the Department of Commerce, Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Bureau of Land Management, among other departments.
“From Colorado’s aerospace and bioscience industries to transportation and energy, Accelerate Colorado represents an innovative coalition of partners focused on driving economic growth across the state,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet said in a statement. “D.C. could use the same deliberate focus on identifying shared priorities to get things done. Frankly, Washington has a lot to learn from Accelerate Colorado and its members.”
Accelerate focused on a slew of policy items at this year’s three-day trip, according to Morgan Cullen, the group’s executive director, including aerospace, bioscience, hydraulic fracturing regulations and supporting the state’s burgeoning, yet unsteady recreational marijuana industry.
“Marijuana was a big ask for us this year mainly because so many new small businesses in Colorado are suffering under federal laws that are in conflict with Colorado’s constitution, making it difficult for these businesses to operate,” Cullen said.
Accelerate went so far as to appoint Denver-based marijuana dispensary MiNDFUL as its presenting partner for this year’s trip.
“Under current provisions in the IRS tax code, marijuana dispensaries are not allowed to deduct their expenses from their taxes like every other business, putting them at a huge competitive disadvantage,” said Kevin Daly, owner and founder of MiNDFUL. “If this issue isn’t addressed in the near future it will kill the marijuana industry in Colorado and in other states that have reformed their laws. Our industry has no complaints about paying our fair share of taxes, but not being able to deduct expenses creates a disproportionate burden that cannot be sustained.”
There were 13 recreational pot shops open in Aurora as of June 19.
Protecting several Colorado military outposts, including Aurora’s Buckley Air Force Base, from possible base realignment and closure actions in the coming years was another top agenda item for Accelerate officials. While Buckley has kept mum on any specific cuts, a recent state-sponsored study analyzing the state’s military operations concluded that if the Department of Defense wanted to consolidate Colorado operations, Buckley and Schriever AFB could be poised to lose organizations, reduce manpower and endure mission realignments. Federal legislators have thwarted holding a federally approved BRAC commission through at least 2017.
Operations at Buckley are heavily involved in aerospace, with the primary mission of the base’s 460th Space Wing centering on global missile detection and defense. Accelerate members vehemently argued on behalf of the national export-import bank, which Cullen said is currently the single most crucial aerospace policy item. The vitality of the decades-old bank is in question following a recent about-face in support from many longtime Congressional Republican backers.
“In terms of aerospace, the biggest issue right now is the Ex-Im bank,” he said. “That could really hurt the aerospace industry’s ability to export, which is a huge economic engine for Aurora and Colorado as a whole.”
The federal bank provides loans to overseas buyers interested in U.S. products. The bank supported $27.5 billion worth of U.S. exports in 2014, 29 percent of which was made up of aircraft and avionics purchases, according to the bank’s website.
Accelerate members also worked to woo legislators to buoy the budget for the National Institutes of Health, an action that would have a direct impact on Aurora’s University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
“Perhaps the biggest issue in terms of health is to see the budget grow for NIH funding since the Anschutz Campus is a hug recipient of research funding,” Cullen said.
The CU Anschutz Medical Campus received more than 500 grant awards totaling $191 million in 2014, according to the NIH website.