Bennet: Fork over mineral money

Bill would release state funds that are being withheld due to sequester

The federal government would be prohibited from reducing the amount of mineral-lease money it passes along to states under the guise of budget-cutting, according to a measure introduced by a Colorado senator.

The bill by U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Breaux, R-La., also would affect sporting and habitat trust funds.

The Release Our State Shares Act would reverse plans under which the Obama administration said it would continue to withhold 5 percent of the revenues, only to pass them along at the end of the fiscal year in a lump sum.

The money was withheld from the state as part of sequestration, which reduced federal spending by 5 percent across the board.

The affected money is generated by private businesses, which make lease payments to the federal government. In the case of mineral-lease payments, the money is to be split 51 percent to the federal government, 49 percent to the states. The state share is then distributed to local governments to aid them in dealing with the consequences of development.

“These revenues are not federal spending and are not even being used to reduce the deficit once they’re sequestered,” Bennet said in a statement.

“Congress should find a smarter way to reduce the debt — but at the very least it should pass this bill to prevent revenue from wrongfully being withheld; especially if it isn’t going to deficit reduction anyway.”

Legislation already has been introduced in the House, H.R. 1972, the State Mineral Revenue Protection Act. It would give states the option to collect their 49 percent share of the mineral royalties directly from the producer.

The Mesa County Federal Mineral Lease District applauded the Senate bill.

“Having the federal government withhold our community’s natural gas and oil royalties is an egregious breach of contract,” district Chairman David Ludlam said. “As a board, we’ll fight along with the senator to have these funds restored to our community on a permanent basis.”


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