Free Press Editorial Board

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October 2, 2008
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Editorial: No on 52 and 58

Following one of the most volatile financial weeks in the history of this country, no one is certain what the national economy is going to look like one week, one month or one year from now.

Likewise, no one knows what Colorado's financial situation is going to look like in the near future.

With this looming uncertainty, Colorado lawmakers need to have flexibility and discretion to appropriately distribute state funds in the upcoming legislative session. They must be able to meet the needs of different groups and agencies statewide with the money they have available, while at the same time balancing a state budget.

We believe both Amendment 52 and Amendment 58, two competing ballot issues on the Nov. 4 ballot, hinder lawmakers' ability to do that by dictating into the state Constitution how state dollars should be spent, which is why we oppose both.

By opposing these ballot questions, we're opposing two proposals that have many aspects we like.

Amendment 52, sponsored by state Sen. Josh Penry, dictates that half of all current oil and gas severance taxes be put toward road improvements. In doing so, the state would be providing a new revenue stream to an area that's been repeatedly overlooked in recent years to the detriment of the state road system. It's good that an attempt is being made to better fund roads, but a constitutional amendment should not be written to address the problem.

Because roads need more funding, taxpayers should insist that lawmakers find a way to allocate appropriate funds to roads when they set the state budget this session, as opposed to writing it into our state Constitution.

Same goes for Amendment 58. We like that it would remove property tax exemptions for oil and gas companies, increasing the amount of severance taxes the state collects. In doing so, Colorado would bring itself up to the same level of taxation that its neighboring states collect from the industry.

What we don't like about Amendment 58, once again, is that the funds are funneled to specific areas like college scholarships and wildlife habitat preservation projects. If the state were to face a budget crunch this session, we'd like for the additional revenues to be used where those balancing the budget deem them to be most needed.

Several important state programs have not been funded properly in recent years because of conflicting constitutional amendments. For example, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, limiting how much money the state can collect, has worked against Amendment 23, which dictates an annual increase in education funding. Because of these conflicting measures, other areas of need in Colorado have gotten squeezed " areas like roads.

Earmarking more funds by writing in more constitutional amendments will only add to the problem in coming years.

The state should better fund its highways. It should also collect more money from the oil and gas industry.

But Amendment 52 and Amendment 58 aren't the way to go about accomplishing either of these goals.

That's why we oppose both.


The Grand Junction Free Press editorial board consists of publisher Valerie J. Smith, managing editor Josh Nichols, night editor Steve Lysaker, community editor Tracy Dvorak and news editor Marija Vader.

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