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Governor to push for partial restoration of raided funds in oil and gas impact coffers

By: DEBBIE KELLEY
November 29, 2011
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La Plata County Commissioner Kellie Hotter said she got an early Christmas present Tuesday from an unexpected gift giver: Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The governor, who was in Colorado Springs on Tuesday to deliver the keynote address at a Colorado Counties Inc. conference and make other appearances here, said a program that helps communities handle impacts of energy development probably won’t be fully restored next year. 

“She’s trying to trick me into a commitment,” Gov. Hickenlooper joked, after Hotter asked what his long-range plan was for the program.

“I can’t promise we’ll give you 100 percent back next year,” Hickenlooper replied. “There are a lot of burdens and we need to see firsthand what extra dollars are needed where — but it’s a goal, to restore a significant amount each year.”

State lawmakers began pilfering from the Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance Fund under the Ritter administration to help balance the state budget. The program was suspended in August 2010.

The Colorado Municipal League estimates that nearly $209 million in severance taxes on energy and mineral production has been or is proposed to be removed from the grant program to address shortfalls in the state’s general fund.

The money is supposed to assist cities and counties that are socially and economically impacted by development, processing and conversion of minerals and mineral fuels. Money has been used to build new roads, wastewater treatment plants and schools. El Paso County doesn’t yet have any oil or gas production so hasn’t been eligible for the funds.

The governor said he is working to persuade the Joint Budget Committee and legislators to earmark $10 million in severance tax collections to the grant program in next year’s budget.

Hotter said in an interview that she appreciates the “good faith effort.”

“He said his intent is to get more and more of that money back each year, and that’s my early Christmas present,” she said. “La Plata County (in southwest Colorado) is a key player in production, and without that money to bank on, it’s hard to fix the impacts to our main infrastructure — our roads and bridges.” 

Fremont County Commissioner Ed Norden said counties are “particularly sensitive about the state taking away our energy and mineral grant dollars because they are critical to counties and municipalities, particularly in rural Colorado.

“There’s a concerted effort to get the message across that counties expect 100 percent restoration and not have the governor and the General Assembly balance the state budget on the backs of local governments,” Norden said.

In response to some county leaders expressing concern about the number of state compliance inspectors being substandard, Hickenlooper said the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is seeking funding, likely from proceeds from industry levies, to add two liaisons to work with local governments.

“We want to add better support to avoid the state and counties competing and inhibiting what ought to be a shared goal: The responsible development of a shared resource,” Hickenlooper said.

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