Monday, February 14, 2011

Senator Roberts - Stop raiding severance-tax revenue

Some rural legislators are fighting to hold onto money that comes from the ground—literally—in their communities.

The dust-up is over severance taxes, which are collected when minerals are extracted from the ground. A portion of the money, which is kept in the Severance Tax Fund, is supposed to be routed back to the rural communities from which the minerals are extracted. However, legislative budget writers have been eyeing the revenue in their bid to bridge a looming budget gap.

On Friday, the Senate took up a package of measures that supplement current budget holes by dipping into the Severance Tax Fund and other cash funds—dollars paid through fees collected under specific programs—amounting to $103 million in all. Of the $103 million, the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee has recommended tapping $84 million out of the severance tax money stream.

Among the resistant rual lawmakers is Sen. Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, who argued that the budget fix would be a blow to the rural communities that rely on the fund.

“We have $84 million dollars being taken away from these communities and we simply cannot afford it,” said Grantham. “We can flip a switch and take away this money, but they have nowhere to fall back.”

Equally adamant that the dollars should be retained by the fund, Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, said she felt passionate about the drain on the cash fund and that she was becoming increasingly weary of the legislature reaching for the severance fund.

“Every time, when it comes to balancing the budget the legislature thinks that this is the pot of money we’re going to go for,” said Roberts. “The reason we’re standing here today (in opposition) is because we feel like nobody’s listening.”

Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, who chairs the budget committee, defended the transfers, saying that the funds in contention are designated for grants—doled out from the fund for particular projects—not dedicated funding to any particular community. Hodge also pointed out that the minerals extracted belong to all of Colorado.

“These are grants, not guaranteed dollars to any town or municipality,” said Hodge. “I would argue that these funds do not necessarily belong to local government. When those minerals are severed, they are severed from the entire state and Colorado no longer has them.”

Yet, Roberts said many rural communities, like those in her district, rely on the funds.

“What are we supposed to survive on? What are we supposed to fix our roads with?” asked Roberts.

Via - CNA

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