Highways versus land preservation

Say this much for Colorado’s House Minority Leader Mike May and state Sen. Ted Harvey:

They are looking well beyond the conventional methods of obtaining funding for highways.

Trouble is, the proposal they unveiled last week would achieve revenue increases for highways and bridges by suspending the conservation easement tax credit — one of the pillars of land preservation in this state for decades.

The two Front Range Republicans want to put the issue to voters with a ballot issue in November. They claim that suspending the tax credit could generate up to $100 million a year for highways and bridges. And they point to reports of a number of landowners, some of them very well-heeled, who have abused the tax credits.

But the abuses of a few shouldn’t be reason to end a program that has been successful in preserving ag land and open space in many communities, including Mesa County.

The better question is whether the tax credit is still needed to protect these kinds of lands in Colorado. Experts such as Mesa Land Trust’s Rob Bleiberg say it is, and we have no reason to doubt him.

Like Mesa County state Reps. Laura Bradford and Steve King, we want to learn more about the proposal before supporting it or rejecting it out of hand. If the suspension of the tax credit were a temporary one, scheduled to resume in a couple of years when everyone hopes the economy will have rebounded, it would be less objectionable.

But we appreciate the fact that May and Harvey are willing to look at sources of funding beyond simply increasing fees Coloradans must pay, and that they are willing to let voters decide on their proposal.

The May-Harvey proposal isn’t likely to get very far in a Legislature controlled by Democrats, but it at least deserves a hearing and a robust debate.


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