[Jim] Spehar, a former Grand Junction City Council member and Mesa County commissioner, joined a bipartisan group of community leaders at a press conference Friday to speak against Amendment 52, which they say would earmark funds for maintenance and construction along Interstate 70 at the expense of state water projects. State Rep. Bernie Buescher, D-Grand Junction, former Republican state Rep. Matt Smith, Grand Junction City Council Member Linda Romer Todd and Tom Burke, former chairman of the Colorado Wildlife Commission, also spoke against the measure.
State Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, coauthor of Amendment 52, admitted Friday that part of the purpose of Amendment 52 is to counter Amendment 58. Amendment 52 proposes to change the state constitution in regards to the allocation of revenues from state severance tax; Amendment 58 would change state law without amending the constitution.
Amendment 58 would eliminate a state tax credit given to the oil and gas industry which would boost state severance tax collections by $321 million in budget year 2010. The increased revenue would go toward college scholarships for in-state residents, wildlife habitat, renewable energy projects, transportation projects in energy-impacted areas and water treatment grants. Colorado's current severance tax rate is the lowest among eight Western energy-producing states. Amendment 58 would raise the state's rate to the third lowest. Companies pay Colorado severance taxes to extract nonrenewable resources from public lands. Currently state severance taxes are split between local governments and the Department of Natural Resources. Half of what the DNR receives go to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
Amendment 52 would not change the tax credit given to energy companies. According to the Colorado Secretary of State Web site, three energy companies -- Plains Petroleum and Exploration of Houston, Berry Petroleum in Bakersfield, Calif., and Occidental Oil and Gas Corporation of Los Angeles -- each contributed $100,000 in July to pay help get Amendment 52 on the ballot. Amendment 52 would change how severance taxes are distributed...
A "massive" funding shortage for Colorado's roads and bridges is the motivation for Amendment 52, Penry said. But amending the Colorado Constitution to fix roads is "wrong," Buescher said. "We should not put transportation policy in our state constitution. Times change. It may not work in 15 years. It's putting water against transportation." Spehar said the Colorado Municipal League also opposes Amendment 52, saying the state constitution is the "wrong place to do this kind of work." Romer Todd agreed. "We're not against funding transportation; it's just the wrong mechanism," she said. Club 20, Colorado Water Congress, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado River Basin Roundtable, Colorado Farm Bureau and the Colorado Farmers Union oppose Amendment 52.