From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Colorado’s Water Plan envisions spending $100 million annually on water projects, but existing sources of funding are drying up.
The Legislature’s interim water resources review committee heard some of the reasons for that, as well as recent poll results that indicate the state’s voters might be ready to back a large-scale funding approach.
Revenues from the state’s mineral severance tax, which are used in part to fund water project loans, will drop significantly this year as a result of a state Supreme Court decision and depressed oil and gas prices, said Bill Levine, budget director for the Department of Natural Resources.
The court decision agrees with BP Petroleum’s assertion that Colorado had been overtaxing companies by including production costs that should have been deductible. State revenues took a double hit, both from the lower present value — about half of the price two years ago — and complicated tax code provisions that factor in losses from prior years.
“We’ve hit the cliff and gone over the cliff,” Levine said.
As a result, revenues that totaled $271 million in 2014 dropped to $57 million this year. In addition, the state is looking at repaying potentially $20 million to BP and other companies based on the court case.
Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, took issue at blaming the Supreme Court for the predicament.
“This is the cost of the Department of Revenue making poor decisions 10-15 years ago. The Supreme Court is not to blame,” he told Levine.
On the bright side, for water interests, state voters are supportive of spending money for planning, conservation, enhancement of river habitat, new water supplies and new storage projects, Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli told the committee. Those concepts have an 80-90 percent approval rating.
He cautioned the committee that sometimes those rosy numbers change by the time an actual measure is proposed, such as in 2003, when Referendum A was defeated in every Colorado county.
The $2 billion measure, which newspaper editorials branded a “blank check” showed early support among voters.
“A small passion against (a proposal) can grow to defeat,” Ciruli said.
Other polling results showed that attention has shifted to water quality from results of similar questions in 2013, when storage was more important because of an ongoing drought.
The survey also showed voters put more trust in local government than state, and far less in federal solutions.
“But the public is ready for implementation (of water projects),” he stressed.