Lawmakers pledge to guard local energy impact payments |

Lawmakers pledge to guard local energy impact payments

Debi Brazzale
Colorado News Agency
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

DENVER – Hundreds of local governments will be receiving payments this year out of state and federal revenue collected from energy and mineral exploration in Colorado. Some lawmakers, meanwhile, already are bracing for the annual legislative dust-up over attempts to divert those dollars to the state’s tight budget.

In a news release announcing the payments last week, Gov. John Hickenlooper and Reeves Brown, executive director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, seemed to acknowledge the high stakes and the need to protect the “energy impact” money on behalf of the communities that benefit.

“These funds help make vital, day-to-day operations possible, ensure needed public-improvement projects become reality and bolster government services offered to local communities,” said Hickenlooper in a prepared statement.

The state Severance Tax and Federal Mineral Lease Direct Distribution payments will reach 506 counties, municipalities and school districts and will be dispersed through the local affairs department. The payments, totaling $54,655,280, exceed last year’s payment of approximately $37 million.

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Lawmakers whose districts encompass areas that rely on these dollars – generated by extraction of oil, coal and other natural resources near their communities -say lawmakers’ original intent of returning dollars to impacted areas must be respected.

Rep. Roger Wilson, D- Glenwood Springs, says money designated to local entities should reach its intended destinations and that intercepting the payments to balance the state budget could throw local governments into a tailspin.

“When we move money around, we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul,” said Wilson. “Even though the money ends up benefitting the same people, we’re disturbing allocations that were made to local governments that count on this money. Local governments need stability in their funding streams to sustain both short and long-term needs.”

Republican state Sen. Ellen Roberts, of Durango, says diverting local funds to pay for statewide needs is both addictive and harmful.

“The dollars that flow back into these places help keep them vibrant,” said Roberts. “Raiding cash funds has now become a habit that is now very difficult to break.”

Money that should have returned to impacted communities from a related fund, the severance cash fund, in the form of grants amounted to approximately $113 million when the 2011-2012 state budget was finalized, according to Kevin Bommer of the Colorado Municipal League. Last year’s direct-disbursement dollars were left untouched.

Wilson, Roberts and Bommer all say they will fiercely defend the disbursement dollars should the state attempt to get their hands on those dollars as well as the cash fund dollars.

“There’s a line in the sand,” says Bommer. “We strongly oppose any more transfers of these dollars.”

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