Bill to raid severance taxes clears Legislature

It is fiscally irresponsible for the Colorado Legislature to take $20 million in severance tax money to help balance the state’s $27 billion budget, House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso said Thursday.

That money, the Loveland Republican said during final approval of several budget-
balancing measures approved in the Colorado House on Thursday, is intended for natural resource management and local governments.

Instead of using the money for those purposes, the Legislature is using some of it to help pay for refunds called for under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

“When you are raiding a cash fund, you are saying there’s no other place to look for money so we have to dig into that couch cushion,” DelGrosso said. “We have raided this account to the tune of $280 million since 2009. This will make it $300 million. It was promised it was going to be paid back. I think taking $20 million more is not paying it back.”

At issue is the revenue limit mandated under TABOR. For the first time in 10 years, the state will collect more overall revenue than that voter-
approved constitutional provision allows, resulting in the need to set aside $244 million to pay refunds over the next two years.

Proponents of using the money argue that severance taxes, half of which go to local governments to mitigate impacts from mineral development, came in $100 million higher this year than last.

Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Frisco, said using severance money, which would have been an unexpected increase to local governments, helps defray the need to cut other crucial programs, such as transportation and education.

“One could argue that the TABOR refund is a direct result of the substantial increase in severance tax revenue,” said Hamner, whose district includes Delta County. “It’s been shown that it will have a minimal impact at the local level. Using $20 million will result in local communities receiving less of an increase. Their current (severance tax) forecast is already much higher than they’ve received in previous years.”

Hamner, a member of the Joint Budget Committee that drafted the severance bill and next year’s budget, said not using that money would mean that increases in funding for transportation for the first time in years, for example, wouldn’t happen without the transfer.

The Legislature is doing something similar with marijuana tax revenues, sending $27.7 million of that money to help defray the TABOR refund costs.

“If we do not use these monies, we will have to cut in other areas in which we have invested: (schools), child welfare, transportation, senior services and capital construction,” she said. “I know how our counties and municipalities rely on this critical resource. I have five counties in my House district, and trust me, I have been hearing from them. But for me this is a clear choice. We need to prioritize an investment in our students, in our senior citizens and our infrastructure.”

DelGrosso and other lawmakers, however, questioned why the JBC couldn’t find $20 million elsewhere in the budget to make the transfer unnecessary.

“They’re saying that if we take this $20 million, that is the only place in this billion-dollar general fund budget that we can find,” he said. “That is ridiculous. We have raided this fund time and time again. You are taking money away from the cities and counties. Is it principled to take money away that is not yours?”

The bill now heads to Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is expected to sign it. It was his Office of State Planning and Budgeting that initially asked for the transfer, except they wanted $47 million.


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