Amendment sparks partisan battle
All three Mesa County commissioners support a proposed amendment to the Colorado Constitution to funnel more severance tax dollars toward transportation, evidenced by the resolution they approved Sept. 8 endorsing the amendment.
The Democratic candidates vying for a seat on the Mesa County Commission, Dan Robinson and Dickie Lewis, oppose the amendment. Robinson, during a news conference Thursday, said, “The commissioners are dead wrong on this.”
“What a dumb way to make law, through the Constitution,” said Robinson, who is challenging Commissioner Craig Meis in District 1.
Eight years ago, as a member of the School District 51 Board of Education, Robinson campaigned for Amendment 23, which embedded mandatory school spending increases into the Constitution.
Robinson said he would do things differently now.
“The Constitution is not the way to earmark funds for public projects. I guess if I had to revisit it again, I probably would not look at Amendment 23 the same,” Robinson said.
He called Amendment 52 a $200 million earmark that gives no assurances that money would go to improve roads in Mesa County.
In the commission’s resolution endorsing Amendment 52, it says the amendment would generate $90 million in its first
year after passage, not the $200 million that Robinson claimed.
“Amendment 52 would not affect funding to local governments in energy impacted areas,” according to the commission’s resolution. “Funding for local road, bridge and other infrastructure needs would grow under the existing formulas.”
Meis said ordinarily he is reluctant to change the Constitution, but severance taxes will be “attacked incessantly” in the next legislative session by special interests. A constitutional amendment, he said, is the only way to preserve the current 50/50 split of severance tax dollars between state and local governments.
“It certainly is in our best interest from a local and rural government standpoint,” Meis said.
Lewis, challenging Commissioner Janet Rowland in District 3, said he opposes making changes to the state Constitution.
“The Constitution is no place to do direct funding,” Lewis said. “That should be up to the Legislature to direct those monies.”
Rowland said she supports Amendment 52.
“That is a fund of money that is growing, and our transportation needs are also growing, so why wouldn’t it make sense to take those dollars and use them to support our transportation needs?” she said. “We can meet some of those needs without a new tax, which is a novel idea for some and common sense for most.”