State may eye tax dollars, higher park fees

DENVER — Don’t be surprised if the Colorado Legislature tries to dip even deeper into severance tax dollars to balance next year’s budget and raises fees at the state’s parks, Western Slope lawmakers said Tuesday.

Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, and Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, came to that conclusion not long after the Joint Budget Committee was told Tuesday there may be an extra $26 million it could dip into from a severance account designed to fund water projects.

That’s on top of the millions of dollars the Legislature already took from several severance tax funds in recent years. This one, known as the Perpetual Base Account of the Severance Tax Trust Fund, normally goes to fund low-interest loans for water projects around the state.

Over the past three years, the state diverted about $120 million from the account to pay for other aspects of the state’s budget, such as education, prisons and human services.

Just this year, Gov. Bill Ritter proposed using an additional $10 million from it to help balance this year’s budget and another $15 million to help cover a shortfall next year.

JBC staff told lawmakers there may be another $26 million it could dip into if need be, something White and Baumgardner don’t care for but expect to see happen.

Neither lawmaker will be members of the powerful JBC when the Legislature convenes next year, but both sat in on a briefing about the subject Tuesday.

“The governor’s balanced budget is predicated on that, so what does it mean? It means once again the Western Slope gets hosed,” White said.

Baumgardner said that account is one of several severance tax funds that normally go to local governments, particularly those impacted the most by oil and gas extraction. While most of that money isn’t being touched, the two lawmakers fear more is to come.

“That pot is getting low, and eventually there’s not going to be anything there,” Baumgardner said. “That’s not the only place they’re going to try to draw severance tax money. I’ve heard of other severance tax funds they’re looking at.”

The Department of Natural Resources, which is funded primarily by severance tax dollars, does get a small amount of general fund money. But because those dollars are limited, the department is proposing not accepting $2.7 million it gets from other sources. Instead, it wants to make up about half of that shortfall by increasing fees at state parks.

White and Baumgardner said that idea may not fly because the state increased park fees only three years ago.


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