White, Penry: Direct Roan money to higher education, energy impacts | PostIndependent.com

White, Penry: Direct Roan money to higher education, energy impacts

Dennis WebbGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. Two state lawmakers are proposing banking revenues from natural gas production on the Roan Plateau for higher education and energy impact needs.State Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, and state Sen. Josh Penry, R-Fruita, are proposing putting half of the revenues into a permanent trust fund for higher education, and the other half into a similar fund that would provide a secure revenue stream for communities impacted by energy development.White, whose district includes the Roan Plateau northwest of Rifle, said Tuesday that those revenues could result in as much as $100 million in interest per year that could fund higher education needs.At the same time, the needs of energy-producing communities should not be ignored, he said.”We’ve got deteriorating roads, we’ve got environmental aspects, we’ve got quality-of-life issues that need to be addressed in those areas that are producing those minerals and producing the revenues,” he said.The state could receive $500 million to $1 billion in bonuses from drilling the Roan, and more than $100 million a year for 20 to 30 years in mineral royalties and state and local energy taxes, according to industry estimates.White said other states have established permanent funds with mineral revenues.”The size of those funds is huge right now, and the interest they’re putting off is equally significant,” he said.He said a state committee is currently studying ways to boost higher education spending in Colorado, including possibly asking residents to approve a tax hike. His and Penry’s plan “would solve a lot of problems without tapping the citizens’ pockets,” he said.Bill Grant, president of the Western Colorado Congress citizens group, called the proposal a “smoke screen.””I think it’s an effort to distract attention from the central issue, which is the value of preserving the Roan Plateau for its own values, not trading it off for the value of higher education,” he said.A retired college professor, Grant said higher education spending is important, but it shouldn’t occur at the expense of drilling on the Roan.Conservation groups and many local communities oppose the federal government’s plans to allow drilling on top of the Roan. Grant said Colorado would be better served by raising its energy severance tax so it is more comparable to that of neighboring states.After allowing for tax deductions, that tax took in $145 million in 2005 in Colorado. By comparison, that same level of energy production would have brought in $556 million in New Mexico and $858 million in Wyoming, he said.”If we simply tax at a rate comparable to our neighboring states we can fund higher education along with a lot of other things needed in the state without drilling the Roan Plateau,” he said.White said he thinks the debate should continue to go on about larger issues surrounding Colorado’s severance tax. In the meantime, he is trying to plan for the best use of a new revenue stream.White said he believes the Roan Plateau plan strikes a good balance between energy production and environmental protection. Some people want all extractive industries closed down, he said.”I’m trying to be a realist and understand the benefits along with the impacts and deal with both of them,” he said.Garfield County Commissioner John Martin said he likes the idea of investing the Roan revenue principal and using only the interest. He also backs directing money toward local energy impact needs. In the county and its communities the cost of those needs now totals about $89 million, for things such as water and sewer improvements required by growth, he said.But he said any money going to higher education should include a business plan to make sure it is responsibly spent.”Higher education has got more money than they really need. What they need to do is revamp their system. I think their system is broken. I think to continue throwing money at the problem is not helping,” he said.Contact Dennis Webb: 384-9119dwebb@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO

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