Colorado Severance Tax Revenue for Highways, Initiative 52 (2008)

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The Colorado Severance Tax Revenue for Highways Initiative, also known as Initiative 52, was on the November 2008 ballot in Colorado as an initiated constitutional amendment, where it was defeated. The measure would have created the Colorado Transportation Trust Fund, to be funded by that portion of the severance tax that exceeds the amount deposited to the state severance tax fund in the previous year, adjusted for inflation via the Consumer Price Index.[1]

Election results

Colorado Initiative 52 (2008)
ResultVotesPercentage
Defeatedd No1,418,00964.22%
Yes 790,124 35.78%

Election results via: The Colorado Secretary of State

Text of measure

The language appeared on the ballot as:[1]

Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning the allocation of revenues from the state severance tax imposed on minerals and mineral fuels other than oil shale that are extracted in the state, and, in connection therewith, for fiscal years commencing on or after July 1, 2008, requiring half of the revenues to be credited to the local government severance tax fund and the remaining revenues to be credited first to the severance tax trust fund until an annually calculated limit is reached and then to a new Colorado transportation trust fund, which may be used only to fund the construction, maintenance, and supervision of public highways in the state, giving first priority to reducing congestion on the Interstate 70 corridor?[2]

Details of the measure

Under state law, half of all severance tax revenue generated by energy producers went to the Department of Local Affairs for distribution to municipalities, with the other half going to the state's Department of Natural Resources, where it was again divided in half, with one half going to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for loans for water projects, and the other half going to programs related to mineral extraction, clean energy development, low-income energy assistance, and species conservation.

This proposal, according to the Colorado Legislative Council Ballot Analysis Draft, would have frozen the current dollar amount going to the DNR at the amount that it received in 2008, or $78 million for Fiscal Year 2008-09, allowing for yearly increases only in line with inflation. Any revenue generated by the tax over and above this amount would have gone directly into transportation funding, under Amendment 52.[3]

Per Colorado Legislative Council Estimates, the proposal would have reallocated $217 million to transportation funding in its first four years. The loss of that $217 million in revenue was projected to result in cuts in the programs that were funded by severance tax revenue now, including grants for water projects, clean energy projects, species conservation, mineral extraction administration, and low-income energy assistance.[3]

Support

State Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma), Sen. Josh Penry (R-Grand Junction), and Rep. Frank McNulty (R-Highlands Ranch) were the measure's primary supporters.

Better Roads Now was the name of the campaign committee supporting the measure. According to Rep. Gardner, this initiative would have created at least $1 billion in new revenue for roads over the next decade.

The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce endorsed Amendment 52 on Sept. 11, 2008. Also endorsing the measure were the Colorado Competitive Council, Action 22, Progressive 15, the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance, the Douglas County Business Alliance, and the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.[4]

The Colorado Retail Council, and the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce also endorsed Amendment 52.[5][6] Club 20 had originally endorsed the measure but voted in September, 2008, to switch sides (see below).[7]

"Our members operate statewide and it's important for us to have roads that are usable and passable so we can get our products to market in an efficient fashion," Christopher D. Howes, president of the Colorado Retail Council, said. "We think this goes a long way toward getting our streets, roads and bridges into shape."[5]

Officials estimated Amendment 52 would generate $90 million in 2009. The initiative was being offered as an alternative to imposing I-70 tolls that would only generate an estimated revenue of between $33 million and $60 million.[8]

The measure was also being offered as an alternative to Amendment 58, an oil and gas tax amendment, which was being pushed by Governor of Colorado Bill Ritter.

Opposition

Responsible Colorado was the name of the opposition campaign.[9]

Club 20, an influential western Colorado lobbying group, had a change of heart and ended up opposing Amendment 52.[7]

Club 20's board voted Sept. 13, 2008, to oppose the measure after a debate on the proposal at the group's conference.[7]

Club 20 Executive Director Reeves Brown said arguments that the measure focuses only on Interstate 70 and would place another fiscal constraint in the state constitution helped change board members' minds.[7]

In addition to Club 20, several other organizations had opposed Amendment 52. They included:

Colorado Water Congress, Colorado Farm Bureau, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, I-70 Coalition, Colorado Center on Law and Policy, Colorado Municipal League, Denver Water Board, Environment Colorado, Audubon Colorado, Colorado Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Progressive Coalition, New Era Colorado Foundation, Progress Now, Colorado Forest Health Advisory Council, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado Forum, and Colorado Environmental Coalition.[9]

Gail Klapper, executive director of the forum, said in a statement, “Our group believes the Constitution isn’t the right place for spending mandates. Additionally, Amendment 52 has pitted two very important interests against one another: water vs. transportation and our members don’t think this type of false choice is good policy. When we create problems for our water needs in an effort to meet our transportation needs we haven’t created a real solution.”[10]

Editorial boards from newspapers that opposed Amendment 52 included: Denver Post, Rock Mountain News, Pueblo Chieftain, Durango Herald, Fort Collins Coloradoan, Rifle Citizen Telegram, Grand Junction Free Press, Longmont Times Call, and Loveland Reporter Herald.[9]

Lawsuits

Email disclosure

A Denver-based nonprofit legal watchdog group filed suit in Denver District Court Sept. 10, 2008, against the three Republican lawmakers pushing this amendment, asking a judge to compel them to fully comply with an open-records request relating to their correspondence about Amendment 52.[11]

According to an Ethics Watch release, the three lawmakers first objected to the open-records request made under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) but then did turn over a handful of documents via the Office of Legislative Legal Services.[11]

But, according to the release, Penry, Gardner, and McNulty withheld additional documents because, according to their defense, when lawmakers discuss a ballot initiative they are not acting as legislators, and therefore the documents are not subject to the Open Records Act.[11]

"State lawmakers are using the initiative process as an alternative means of advancing their agenda, and therefore their emails to each other should be considered public records under the law, open to public review," Chantell Taylor, director of Colorado Ethics Watch, said in the release.[11]

Polls

See also Polls, 2008 ballot measures.

A statewide telephone poll of 625 registered voters was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research on behalf of the Denver Post on October 28-29.

The poll found:

Month of Poll Pollster Yes No Undecided
Oct 28-29 Mason-Dixon 34 percent 43 percent 23 percent[12]

Path to the ballot

This measure was certified for the ballot Aug. 15, 2008, as Amendment 52. Supporters submit 137,341 signatures July 29, 2008, against the 76,047 valid signatures required to place the measure on the November 2008 ballot.[13][14][15]

If both Ritter's and Gardner's proposals make the ballot and both pass, Gardner's proposal, a constitutional amendment, would supersede Ritter's statutory change.[16]

See also

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