Ritter files petitions to end oil, gas tax break
August 5, 2008
DENVER ” Saying “enough is enough,” Gov. Bill Ritter and supporters filed ballot initiative petitions on Monday asking voters to end a 30-year-old, $300 million-a-year state tax break for oil and gas companies.
If the signatures are approved by the secretary of state along with other initiatives filed by Monday’s deadline, there could be a dozen or more questions facing voters on the November ballot.
Other initiatives filed Monday included a proposal prohibiting the state from granting preferential treatment to state employees or contractors on the basis of race, sex, color or national origin and another that would require employers to justify why workers are fired.
Ritter said the initiative to end a tax break for oil and gas companies will be one of the most pressing issues because it not only affects a major industry in Colorado, but it also would affect thousands of college students who could get financial aid.
“The petitions in boxes behind me ask a very simple question for Coloradans to answer in November. Should we make investments in the future of Colorado, or should we continue to pay an unnecessary $300 million subsidy to an industry that doesn’t need it,” Ritter said.
Ritter said the industry has a lot of money from record-breaking profits to fight the initiative.
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Dan Hopkins, spokesman for an opposition group sponsored by the oil and gas industry, said consumers would be stuck with the tab if it passes because oil and gas companies would pass on the costs.
He said the industry raised $2.6 million in the last two weeks to fight it.
The ballot question asks voters to end property-tax deductions for the oil and gas industry that allows producers to take a credit of up to 87.5 percent of the prior year’s property tax liability from their severance taxes.
Under Ritter’s proposal, 60 percent would go to a fund called Colorado Promise Scholarship, 15 percent for local impact of the oil and gas industry on transportation and water quality, 15 percent for wildlife habitat, and 10 percent to clean energy projects. Part of the money also will be put into a trust fund so students wouldn’t lose their scholarships if revenues decline.
Scholarships would be based on a family’s adjusted gross income and eligibility would be capped at higher income levels. They would also be based on the number of students a family has in college. Students would be required to maintain a 2.5 or greater grade point average.
Ritter said a student studying to be a teacher at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, for instance, whose family had an adjusted gross income of $62,000, would qualify for a $2,000 grant. He said it would reduce tuition and fees from $6,500 to $4,500, a 31 percent cut.