GOCO is among state’s best ideas
In 1992, Colorado voters passed two constitutional amendments that would significantly alter government funding and have a direct impact on nearly every citizen of the state.
One of them — the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR — has been the subject of repeated controversy, lawsuits and attempts to repeal all or part of it.
There’s been no ongoing controversy or repeal effort attached to the other amendment, which created Great Outdoors Colorado and directed that money from the state lottery go to wildife, parks, rivers, trails and open space.
Perhaps there’s been so little controversy because Colorado voters so strongly supported the measure 20 years ago, by twice as large a victory margin as they supported TABOR.
Even more important, GOCO has been spectacularly successful. In Mesa County alone, it has directed nearly $28 million to more than 90 projects ranging from parks development to trails to wildlife habitat to open space preservation. The Colorado Riverfront Trail and many of the area’s parks wouldn’t be what they are today if it weren’t for assistance from GOCO. And much of the agricultural land and open space Mesa Land Trust has helped protect wouldn’t be protected without GOCO.
The Colorado Lottery had been operating for almost a decade prior to GOCO’s passage, thanks to an earlier ballot amendment that voters believed directed money to parks and wildlife. However, the state Legislature repeatedly siphoned off Lottery cash for things like prisons and state buildings.
When people complained but the Legislature failed to act, the GOCO citizens initiative was born. That effort was driven in part by locals such as then-state Sen. Tillie Bishop and Rebecca Frank, then a member of the Colorado Wildife Commission. Tom Burke of Grand Junction is currently on the GOCO board.
The GOCO amendment mandated that some of the Lottery funds go to cities and counties as it had prior to 1992. The remaining 50 percent of Lottery proceeds are controlled by the GOCO board and are divided among state parks, wildlife, open space and competitive grants to local governments.
Early on, the GOCO board decided not to expend all of its funds on numerous small, independent projects. Instead, it created the Legacy Program, which required multiple entities such as state and local government agencies to submit joint applications for larger projects to benefit a wide group of people. Mesa County’s riverfront project and state and local parks were among the first beneficiaries of the Legacy Project.
“Colorado is one of the most collaborative states in the country, and GOCO deserves some of the credit for that,” said Frank,who was an original member of the GOCO board.
So, take a walk or ride on the Colorado Riverfront Trail. Visit the Three Sisters area or enjoy some of the many state and municipal parks in the valley. And understand that much of what you enjoy was made possible through GOCO, one of Colorado’s best ideas, now celebrating its 20th year serving our state.