As economic development professionals on the front lines of trying to strengthen our local economy and create jobs we see Proposition 112 first and foremost as a "job killer." It is not just the high paying jobs of those directly employed in the oil and gas industry which currently number close to 3,000 according to a recent Mesa County Workforce report, it is all the subcontractors in construction, environmental compliance and transportation which by conservative estimates of three jobs being created for every one job in mineral extraction number close to 9,000. Beyond that, is the impact on almost every business in Mesa County that has at least a few of these 12,000 workers spending money at their restaurants, auto repair shops, clothing stores, and other retail and service outlets. According to a study released by the Common-Sense Policy Roundtable, of the 147,000 Coloradoans that would see their jobs disappear if Proposition 112 is passed, 113,000 are OUTSIDE of oil and natural gas.
But the impacts on business almost pale by comparison to how a 2,500-foot setback requirement statewide would affect our local government budgets for needed services like police, fire and street maintenance. First will be the loss of sales tax revenue from loss of jobs but there will also be a significant reduction in severance taxes paid by energy companies that will have limited their operations to existing wells since 85-95 percent of land for future development will be off the table. It is severance taxes that have provided grant funds for Las Colonias, Palisade Plunge and other local amenities. These are quality-of-life enhancements that we utilize when selling Mesa County to new businesses and expanding companies. From 2019 to 2030 more than $9 million in state and local tax revenue would be lost, with that amounting to a loss of more than $1 billion annually by 2030.
For businesses in general there is a reason beyond jobs and tax revenues to be opposed to Proposition 112. If Proposition 112 is successful, it will set precedent for "regulation by ballot." Businesses of all stripes need consistency in the regulatory environment in order to plan for long-term investments and growth. The Colorado Oil and Gas Regulatory Commission is the body charged with regulating oil and gas development in a process that is open to public testimony, public scrutiny and participation by industry experts. It has engaged in robust rulemaking actions in the past five years which makes Colorado one of the most stringent states in the country for regulating the oil and gas industry already. But apparently that is not enough. What happens if someone or some group is not happy with the regulation is now a matter of gathering signatures, garnering support from likeminded entities inside and outside the state, and rewriting regulations by appealing to voters. Don't like the rezone in your neighborhood for affordable housing? Take it to the ballot. Don't like the way your local health provider presents their bill for services? Take it to the ballot.
Finally, there is the reason that supporters are touting the benefits of Proposition 112 — the health and safety of Colorado residents. Yet, there is no clear and conclusive scientific evidence that 2500 feet is any safer than the current 500-foot and 1,000-foot setbacks in regulations. So, in essence, Proposition 112 will hurt all of us in one way or another economically without clearly providing any positive benefit … at all!
That is why the Grand Junction Economic Partnership and the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce have joined over 25 other local chambers, economic development organizations and trade associations across the state in opposing Proposition 112. We are joined by gubernatorial candidates Jared Polis and Walker Stapleton as well as current Gov. John Hickenlooper in urging voters to not "set Colorado back."
Robin Brown is the executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership and Diane Schwenke is president and CEO of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.