Ritter’s severance tax decision cheers Western Slope group | PostIndependent.com

Ritter’s severance tax decision cheers Western Slope group

Dennis WebbGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. A Western Slope lobbying group is cheering Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter’s decision to sign a bill boosting severance tax funds going to counties impacted by energy development.Ritter plans to sign the measure next Tuesday in Glenwood Springs as part of a Western Slope tour in which he also will hold signing ceremonies for several other oil and gas bills.Reeves Brown, executive director of the Club 20 Western Slope lobbying group, said he was delighted to hear of the governor’s plans on the severance tax bill. Brown earlier had encouraged Ritter to go along with the measure.”I think he was under a fair bit of pressure not to sign that,” Brown said.Ritter representatives said Wednesday that the governor plans to sign House Bill 1139 at the Garfield County Courthouse at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday.The bill was sponsored by state Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, and state Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction.Ritter also plans to stop in Summit County Tuesday morning to sign a measure sponsored by Rep. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, that seeks to better protect wildlife from drilling-related impacts.While in Glenwood Springs, he also plans to sign a bill that will give more power to landowners in resolving disputes with underlying mineral owners over energy development.Then, Ritter is scheduled to head to Grand Junction later in the day, where he will sign what is considered the most sweeping piece of oil and gas legislation to be passed this year. It will change the makeup of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to lessen representation by people with ties to the energy industry. It also will redefine the commission’s mission so that it must strike a balance between oil and gas production and protection of the environment and public health.The severance tax bill will provide that 30 rather than 15 percent of severance taxes on energy go directly back to the counties where energy development is occurring. The money goes to schools, county governments and municipalities, said Rio Blanco County Commissioner Ken Parsons.The measure has been contentious because of the millions of dollars at stake at a time when Colorado’s energy economy is booming but state finances are tight.”I know that there were some legislators that have had eyes on severance tax revenues for education and open space and quite a number of other needs,” Brown said.But he said too much of that revenue already goes for purposes other than what was first intended, which was to mitigate impacts in areas where energy development is occurring.”This bill is going to drive those moneys back to their originally intended constituent groups,” he said.He called the measure “hugely important” for places such as Garfield and Mesa counties, where the energy industry is placing demands on schools, social services and law enforcement. Reeves said Ritter would be keeping a campaign promise if he signs the measure.The bill isn’t being universally welcomed even in energy-producing counties, however. That’s because the direct distributions of severance tax revenues to energy-impacted counties are based on where energy workers live, not where production occurs. Parsons said that formula works against Rio Blanco County because many of its energy workers live in places such as Rifle or even Utah, and commute to Rio Blanco County.Although it gets some severance tax revenues based on employment, the county gets far more based on a state grant program that is funded by some of the 85 percent of severance tax revenues currently not doled out to counties based on energy employment. With that amount dropping to 70 percent under the new bill, and some of that 70 percent also going for other state uses, Parsons expects to see a reduction in available grant funding.He worries about the repercussions for Rio Blanco County because of the huge impacts energy development is having on the county’s roads.But Parsons thinks the effect of the new legislation may be short-lived. This summer, a special state committee is scheduled to study severance tax and federal mineral lease distributions.”It’s likely that this change will last for exactly one year, if at all, because this committee is probably going to refigure the whole ball of wax, and I don’t know if it will necessarily be best for northwestern Colorado or not.”Contact Dennis Webb: 384-9119dwebb@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO

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