The backers of Amendment 52 say it will improve I-70 or other transportation in Colorado (the measure's a big vague). Yet none of the traditional traditional transportation groups in Colorado are contributing any money to the effort. Club 20, the big West Slope lobbying group is opposing it. It goes against recommendations by I-70 communities. And all of the money behind Amendment 52 comes from out-of-state oil and gas companies.
Why would out-of-state oil and gas companies suddenly take such a big interest in Colorado's transportation problems? They've never gotten involved before? They didn't weigh in on Referendum D, the mostly-transportation companion to Ref. C in 2005. What's going on?
The answer to that question is the big reason to vote "no" on Amendment 52. There are lots of other reasons to vote "no" on 52, but topping them all is the sheer dishonesty of the campaign.
Out-of-state oil companies don't give a damn about our transportation problems. In fact, they're perfectly happy to compound them with their mad drive to squeeze every profitable bit of oil and gas out of our state.
Out-of-state oil and gas companies are supporting Amendment 52 as an
underhanded way of keeping Coloradans from getting their fair share of oil
and gas revenues.
As you know, Big Oil (and Gas) is sucking record amounts of petroleum out of Colorado and earning huge profits on it. But an old loophole lets them avoid paying the real Colorado severance tax on their windfall. While
surrounding states use severance tax revenue to build schools, fix roads and
build up trust funds for the future, we're subsidizing oil and gas companies.
All because of a tax loophole oil and gas companies won years ago.
Amendment 58, another measure on the November ballot, would eliminate the loophole and force oil and gas companies to start paying Colorado a severance tax similar to what they pay in surrounding states.Of course Big Oil (and
Gas) is fighting hard to keep the loophole and their huge profits from
Colorado. You've undoubtedly seen some of their misleading advertisements.
Amendment 52 is kind of an "insurance policy" in case the ad campaign doesn't
Amendment 52 would divert some of our existing severance tax to transportation. They happened to pick transportation -- it could have been anything. The key part of the measure is that it would become a permanent
part of the state constitution. Amendment 58 would eliminate the tax loophole
by changing state statutes.In general, provisions in the constitution trump
provisions in statute. If both amendmwents pass, there's a good chance 52's
constitutional change would take precedence over 58's statutory change and
block voters' attempt to eliminate the oil and gas tax loophole.
The group pushing 52 is just three state legislators calling themselves Better Roads Now. Although they claim their goal is to improve traffic on I-70, all of their financial support is from out-of-state oil companies.Here
are the contributions Better Roads Now has reported to the Secretary of
|Plains Exploration & Production Co||Houston, Tx||7/01/2008||$100,000.00|
|Berry Petroleum Company||Bakersfield, Ca||7/03/2008||$100,000.00|
|Occidental Oil & Gas Corp.||Los Angeles, Ca||7/16/2008||$100,000.00|
All out-of-state oil and gas companies; no Colorado transportation groups. In fact, no contributions from anyone in Colorado.
Amendment 52 isn't just an underhanded way to protect oil company profits, it's a bad idea all by itself.
Supporters of Amendment 52 are pretending that it generates free money for transportation. Not true. It takes money from some important things the state is going right now, like projects to ensure a sustainable supply of clean
water, protect forests from the pine beetle infestation, protect wildlife and
offer low-income energy assistance.
Interestingly, the people proposing Amendment 52 choose to take all of the money from the part of the severance tax that goes to statewide projects. They avoided taking any money from the other half, the half that supports mostly West Slope and rural cities and counties.
I don't know if we'll ever be able to fix the problems on I-70, but one thing I do know is that asphalt alone isn't going to be the solution. Everyone who has studied it, including the cities along the highway, conclude
that public transit is going to be part of any real improvements.Yet
Amendment 52 specifically excludes transit. It does so in kind of a slick
way. The amendment says the money will be for the same things as Section 18
Article X of the Colorado Constitution.
"If they refer to that section the expectation would be that the money would be used for highways," said Jason Gelender, an attorney with Legislative Legal Services. Legal Services writes bills and interprets laws for the legislature.
Amendment 52 would put this bad idea right into the Colorado Constitution where it will likely be forever. People all across Colorado have recognized the problems we've created by constantly adding things to the Constitution
when they should be in law.Of course amending the constitution is critical to
the real intent behind 52. Since the backers are really using it as a red
herring to preserve a tax break for oil companies, they need it in the
Constitution so it will trump Amendment 58, which would only change state
Amendment 52 might put $90 million a year into I-70 and/or other transportation projects. For I-70, that's just not significant. Plans for fixing I-70 start at about $5 billion and go up significantly before they
reach viability. That means the money from 52 would likely go to other
transportation projects around the state, which brings up yet another problem
with the proposal.
The state legislature would decide how to spend the money from Amendment 52, not the Colorado Transportation Commission. But it's the commission that makes most state transportation funding decisions. It's been that way for
decades as a way to make transportation policy less political. Before term
limits, powerful legislators could divert money to their own districts.
Our transportation funding is already getting fragmented as Congress earmarks money for specific projects and ballot issues, like the TRANS bonds, add projects to broaden the geographic appeal. Adding a new set of decisions
by the legislature will further erode the state's ability to follow
consistent a transportation policy.
Here are some websites where you can get more information about Amendment 52:
Responsible Colorado, which opposes Amendment 52
Better Roads Now, the oil-industry-funded group supporting Amendment 52