This November, Coloradans will vote on controversial legislation that would end a 30-year-old, $300 million annual tax subsidy to oil and gas companies and redirect that money to environmental projects and state-funded student scholarships.
Friday afternoon, a cadre of Democrats, including the amendment author Gov. Bill Ritter, came to Avogadro’s Number on Mason Street to “lead the charge and fire (voters) up” to end the subsidy by voting yes on Amendment 58.
Ritter, a CSU alumnus who once depended on state-funded financial aid for higher education, Rep. John Kefalas, Rep. Randy Fischer, Sen. Bob Bacon and Larimer County Commissioner Randy Eubanks all took the stage to support and explain the amendment, saying that it’s time end the tax credit.
CSU Provost Tony Frank also spoke in support of the amendment, saying that CSU President Larry Penley could not make it because he was, “off trying to find funds.”
“CSU is a state land grant institution,” Frank said. “That means that at its heart and soul is access to a greater education. That access is under challenge, and CSU has an interest in anything that might support that.”
Opponents to the amendment, including the Denver Chamber of Commerce and Coloradans for a Stable Economy, argue that eliminating the tax credit will cause these companies to move out of Colorado, and local businesses will be left with a heavier tax burden.
When asked about this argument on Friday, Ritter said he knows people in the gas industry who have told him that “nobody is going to walk away from a gas deal because of the existence or non-existence of a tax credit.”
“We could take away that tax credit, and we still wouldn’t be where they are in Wyoming,” Ritter said, referring to the large gap in oil and gas tax income between Colorado and its neighboring states.
Fisher explained that 87.5 percent of oil and gas company tax is subsidized in Colorado.
“I’ve got to admit that I’ve got a bit of severance tax envy,” Fischer said about New Mexico and Wyoming’s gas tax revenue.
The Associated Students of CSU president Taylor Smoot said he supported the amendment.
“Anything that will alleviate the pocketbooks of students and parents is something we stand behind,” he said. “This amendment could bring $120 million to higher education access programs. That’s something we definitely stand behind.”
Ritter addressed opponents of the amendment, highlighting what he said is the relative insignificance of the tax credit to the oil industry, which is already making record profits.
“This is a $23 billion industry, and a 1.3 percent of that does not make or break their business,” Ritter said.
He also said that it is a myth that Coloradoans will have to pay the difference at the pump.
“This tax has no impact on the world market price of oil and natural gas. it’s a set market,” he said.
Some argue that, although it is a good thing to increase access to the university, the money might be better spent on school’s operating funds rather than on scholarships.
CSU ranks 49 out of 50 as one of the least funded State schools in the nation.
Of the $300 millions, 60% would be dedicated to state scholarship and financial aid programs – the remaining 40% to be divided to fund wildlife programs, renewable energy development and local government projects.
But Gov. Ritter said that even if 58 passes, CSU is not likely to advance from its low national standing.
“We’re going to have a hard time catching up, we’ll need an even bigger help,” he said.
Senior Reporter Trevor Simonton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.