Colorado lawmakers say they need more time to review minerals money
Associated Press Writer
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
DENVER ” State lawmakers say they need more time to analyze the effects of a bill that changes the way Colorado divvies up its share of federal royalties from oil, gas and other minerals.
An interim committee canceled a meeting planned Wednesday, saying it wants legislative staffers to provide more specifics on how communities would be affected. Rep. Bernie Buescher said Wednesday that lawmakers are making progress but aren’t ready to vote on proposed legislation.
Buescher, D-Grand Junction, rejected suggestions the bill was stalled.
“We have made steady progress. We need analysis of the bonds. We need analysis of the impacted communities. We need to determine the investment guidelines,” he said.
The oil and gas boom has more than doubled the state’s share of federal minerals money, to an estimated $150 million this year from $60 million three years ago.
The funds were intended to help local communities deal with the impact of drilling and mining.
Buescher said lawmakers are considering legislation to create a permanent fund to ensure there is money available to local communities when oil and gas drilling decline.
The legislation would raise the $500,000 cap on projects to build roads, bridges and other big ticket items that would help communities cope with the oil and gas boom. A new cap hasn’t been determined.
The money is currently doled out to communities statewide because lawmakers have argued that everyone is affected by oil and gas drilling, putting a strain on roads and other state services.
Counties directly affected by drilling on the Western Slope and northeast Colorado have argued they deserve more money because they are affected the most.
Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, said rural counties are worried their funding will be cut.
“There are elected officials and leaders who are extremely nervous about what is going to happen. There are a lot of questions and a lot of uncertainty. There is a need to move cautiously,” he said.
Buescher said the committee studying revenues from federal mineral leases and from the state severance tax on minerals extraction is trying to balance needs.
“On the one hand, we want to put money aside and on the other hand, we want to increase the money we’re taking out,” he said.
A state audit in August showed wide disparity in the way severance tax revenues are distributed.
The taxes are collected from oil and gas producers and are supposed to compensate communities adversely affected by oil, gas and mineral extraction. Set amounts are distributed depending on which industry employees live in a community.
However, auditors said the distribution formula, which is intended to give money to communities most impacted by production, often does not fully address the effects the industry has on housing, roads, water and sewerage.
Lawmakers said any attempt to change the formula will have a major impact on local communities that depend on the revenue for local services, and they expect a bitter fight after a task force reviewing the formula completes its work and recommends changes later this year.
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