GLENWOOD SPRINGS - Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday signed legislation to raise money to build or improve shooting ranges and fish habitat, while sitting in the sun at the Glenwood Springs Gun Club in South Canyon.
The governor also signed into law a bill offering income tax credits to those who inherit agricultural land in the state and keep that land in agricultural use.
"Shooting ranges all throughout the state have been closing down at a relatively alarming rate," said Gaspar Perricone, co-director of the Bull Moose Sportsmen's Alliance, which supported the bill.
When shooting ranges close, hunters and recreational shooters have no place to sharpen their skills, said Perricone, cutting into $1.8 billion in annual revenues from hunting and recreation.
The bill, HB 12-1275, sponsored by Sen. Jean White, R-Hayden, and Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, authorizes the manufacture and sale of a special wildlife sporting license plate for vehicles. Revenues from the new plates are meant to encourage outdoor recreational opportunities.
The license plates will cost a total of:
• The basic $50 fee for a regular license plate.
• A $25 one-time fee for a special plate, which goes to the Highway Users Tax Fund.
• A $10 one-time fee for a new wildlife cash fund.
• A $25 annual fee for the new wildlife cash fund.
The revenue from the new law, estimated by the assembly's Joint Budget Committee to add $30,000 per year to the wildlife cash fund, is to be used for grants to build or enhance shooting ranges, and to improve fish habitat around the state.
The bill also is predicted to cost the state approximately $3,000 for reprogramming computers in the departments of revenue and natural resources.
The other bill, HB 12-1042, sponsored by Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, and Pace, establishes an income tax credit for those who inherit agricultural land in Colorado and keep it in agricultural use.
The credit is equal to the amount an inheritor had paid in state inheritance taxes, and is meant to alleviate pressure on those landowners who might otherwise be forced to sell off parts of ranches or farms in order to pay off outstanding tax bills.
The state law is intended to make up for the anticipated end of a temporary federal exemption to estate taxes, which is due to expire at the end of the year.
The agricultural tax credit is expected to cost the state $2.6 million per year in revenues, the JBC concluded.
Sens. Schwartz and White, and representative Pace - and other officials stood beside the governor as he signed the bills.
Also at the signing were Glenwood Springs City Councilman Ted Edmonds and Police Chief Terry Wilson, Colorado Parks and Wildlife area manager Perry Will, and other community leaders.
The signing, scheduled for 1 p.m. on Monday, did not happen until after 2 p.m. because the governor's entourage was delayed while touring the Natural Soda Inc. mine north of Rifle.
A moment of levity kicked off the ceremony.
By the time the governor arrived and sat at a folding table, in the clay-shooting section of the Glenwood Springs Gun Club in South Canyon, several black signing pens arrayed on the table had become quite warm in the hot sun.
"Ow, these pens are blazing hot," Hickenlooper said.
But Pace, who had been waiting in the same hot sun for more than an hour, joked, "Well, they were on time," eliciting delighted groans and laughs from the crowd in attendance and from the governor.
As the governor signed the bills, the sponsors spoke of the need for both pieces of legislation.
The bills offer "a great opportunity to highlight shooting sports and fishing resources" around the state, said White.
"It's so important to protect our recreational, tourism-based economies," Pace remarked about HB 12-1042.
Concerning HB 12-1275, Pace noted that Colorado loses thousands of acres of agricultural land every year because of pressures to sell to meet tax bills.
Schwartz noted that "this is certainly an issue that's come up in my district," which includes Aspen and much of the Roaring Fork Valley.
She explained that unexpected estate-tax bills too often force landowners to sell to developers rather than keeping the land in agricultural production.