Candidates want energy industry to keep tax credit
RIFLE — Three of four Garfield County commissioner candidates say they oppose Amendment 58, a state ballot proposal to eliminate a severance tax credit for the oil and gas industry.
Two of the candidates — Democrat Steve Carter and Republican Mike Samson — expressed their concerns about the measure Tuesday night during a debate that focused largely on energy industry issues.
Amendment 58 would eliminate the ability of industry to take a credit against severance taxes based on local property taxes that companies pay. Carter and Samson, who are vying for retiring Commissioner Larry McCown’s seat, are worried about the measure’s plan for spending severance tax revenues. They said local governments wouldn’t receive enough revenue to offset industry impacts.
“We’ll get exactly what we have and certainly will get no more, and I think we should get a lot more from a severance tax,” Carter said.
Democrat Stephen Bershenyi, who is challenging Republican incumbent John Martin, said he supports the measure because of its plan to fund college scholarships.
Martin did not address the issue in the debate, but said in an interview that the county commission has come out against the measure. He fears that higher taxes on the industry would be passed on to consumers through higher energy bills.
Also Tuesday, Martin voiced concern that new rules nearing final approval by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, while helpful in some regards, threaten to polarize the county and create a hostile environment for the industry. The other three candidates favored the rules, saying they should reduce energy development’s impacts on the county and its residents.
Bershenyi and Carter said the county should follow Rio Blanco County’s lead and assess impact fees on oil and gas wells. Samson and Martin oppose the idea, and said the county is better off working cooperatively with the industry to get it to pay for the impacts it creates on county roads.
Bershenyi and Carter said the impact fee is needed to make sure all energy companies pay their fair share for such impacts.
Martin said voluntary agreements are bringing the county $3 million to $5 million per year, and Samson fears possible legal challenges to an impact fee program. Bershenyi said a fee of $15,000 per well could generate $15 million per year in the county, and the industry already is willingly paying the fee in Rio Blanco County.