A lengthy press release and “research dump” this week from Sen. Mark Udall’s campaign highlights an issue that could prove damaging to GOP Senate candidate Cory Gardner with otherwise conservative-leaning constituencies–his co-authorship of 2008’s failed Amendment 52, which would have diverted mineral severance tax funding revenues away from water projects to road construction.
Amendment 52 was described by co-author Josh Penry as a retaliatory ballot measure, intended to complicate the implementation of Amendment 58–a measure from then Gov. Bill Ritter to increase mineral severance taxes to fund education. As the Denver Post’s Mark Jaffe reported then:
“This is all about politics,” said Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, a sponsor of Amendment 52. [Pols emphasis]
Penry said that when Gov. Bill Ritter chose to seek the severance-tax change through the ballot rather than the legislature, those seeking more money for highways “were forced to put our own proposal to the voters.”
Amendment 52, which would become part of the state constitution, would cap tax revenues for water projects and could provide $90 million next year for highway projects and $1 billion over the next decade, supporters say.
While Amendment 58 failed at the polls in 2008, Gardner and Penry’s Amendment 52 went down by a much wider margin. Just about every local government representation group, the state’s Department of Natural Resources, conservationists, and most importantly, water rights stakeholders from across the state came out against Amendment 52.
“We know that we are facing a growing population and a need for water projects,” said Chris Treese, a spokesman for the Colorado River District. “This just hurts.”
We’ve reprinted the Udall campaign’s detailed press release on this subject after the jump. This is just one of a number of stories from Gardner’s long career in politics that warrants close scrutiny by the press between now and Election Day. The negative takeaways for Gardner from the Amendment 52 story are significant: from inappropriate tit-for-tat using our state’s constitution as his chessboard to a callous disregard for vital stakeholders in Colorado’s economy, for the purpose of protecting a couple of percentage points for his benefactors in oil and gas industry.
And there’s absolutely nothing about this story that makes Cory Gardner look good.
Gardner Wrote Measure To Strip $112 Million From Water Projects
Funded By Out-of-State Interests, Gardner’s Constitutional
Amendment Would Gut Colorado Water Projects
DENVER – As Congressman Gardner is scheduled to speak at Water Congress’ summer conference today, it’s worth remembering that in 2008, then-State Representative Cory Gardner co-authored a constitutional amendment backed by out-of-state companies to strip more than $100 million from Colorado water projects. The measure, Amendment 52, was met with bipartisan opposition from across Colorado and was soundly defeated by voters.
“Senators have a duty to represent and protect the well-being of all Coloradans. It is deeply disturbing that Congressman Gardner sided with out-of-state interests over the water needs of Colorado communities,” said Secretary Ken Salazar. “Almost two-thirds of Colorado’s voters from every part of the State rejected Gardner’s scheme. Coloradans deserve better than Congressman Gardner.”
GARDNER AMENDMENT WOULD HURT COLORADO WATER
GARDNER WROTE AND PUSHED FOR A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT, FUNDED BY $300K IN OUT OF STATE INTERESTS
Gardner Co-Wrote Amendment 52, In Attempt To Counter Other Amendment Opposed By Out-Of-State Companies. “State Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, coauthor of Amendment 52, admitted Friday that part of the purpose of Amendment 52 is to counter Amendment 58. Amendment 52 proposes to change the state constitution in regards to the allocation of revenues from state severance tax; Amendment 58 would change state law without amending the constitution. Amendment 58 would eliminate a state tax credit given to the oil and gas industry which would boost state severance tax collections by $321 million in budget year 2010. The increased revenue would go toward college scholarships for in-state residents, wildlife habitat, renewable energy projects, transportation projects in energy-impacted areas and water treatment grants. …Republican lawmakers [Josh] Penry, Rep. Cory Gardner of Yuma and Rep. Frank McNulty of Highlands Ranch penned Amendment 52, dubbed ‘Better Highways Now.’” [Grand Junction Post Independent, 10/26/2008]
- Companies From Texas And California Contributed $300,000 To Amendment 52 Campaign. In October 2008, the Grand Junction Post Independent reported that “According to the Colorado Secretary of State Web site, three energy companies ‘Plains Petroleum and Exploration of Houston, Berry Petroleum in Bakersfield, Calif., and Occidental Oil and Gas Corporation of Los Angeles’ each contributed $100,000 in July to pay help get Amendment 52 on the ballot. Amendment 52 would change how severance taxes are distributed.” [Grand Junction Post Independent, 10/26/2008]
Gardner Delivered Pro-Amendment 52 Video For The Rocky Mountain News. [Rocky Mountain News, YouTube video, 8/18/2008]
BIPARTISAN AGREEMENT THAT AMENDMENT 52 WOULD DIVERT $112 MILLION FROM COLORADO WATER PROJECTS AND HURT COLORADO COMMUNITIES
Amendment 52 Would Mean $112 Million Less For Local Water Projects. In September 2008, the Colorado legislature issued a fiscal impact statement on Amendment 52 and stated that over 4 years, it would mean $112 million less for local water projects. [Colorado Legislative Council, Amendment 52 Fiscal Impact Statement, 9/3/2008]
HEADLINE: “Roads versus water? Question drives debate in western Colorado over Amendment 52” [Grand Junction Post Independent, 10/26/2008]
State Rep. Jack Pommer: Amendment 52 Will “Take All This Money Away From Water Projects Which Help The West Slope, And The San Luis Valley And Northern Colorado We’ll Put It Into Some Kind Of A Road Project In Denver-Metro Area.” In September 2008, the State Rep. Jack Pommer made the case against Amendment 52: “When people come to the legislature and say: ‘we really need to enhance the water supply. We’re in the middle of a drought. We need to do things on the water supply.’ What’s the response going to be? I’m sorry all that money went to I-70 or to a transportation project in Aurora. …What will probably happen is we’ll take all this money away from water projects which help the West Slope, and the San Luis Valley and Northern Colorado we’ll put it into some kind of a road project in Denver-Metro area.” [Rocky Mountain News, YouTube video, 9/18/2008]
GOP State Rep. Smith: “It Takes $140 Million Out Of The State Water Construction Fund. It’s A Sacred Fund For Those Of Us In Western Colorado’ That’s What Builds Projects In The State.” In October 2008, the Grand Junction Post Independent reported that “‘It takes $140 million out of the state water construction fund. It’s a sacred fund for those of us in western Colorado’ that’s what builds projects in the state,’ [Republican state Rep. Matt] Smith said. Larry Clever, general manager of the Ute Water Conservancy District, said the current system is a good financing source for the district. ‘It’s a Band-Aid to roads; it would be devastating to the water community,’ Clever said.” [Grand Junction Post Independent, 10/26/2008]
Former Grand Junction City Council Member: Amendment 52 Is A “Trojan Horse” That Would Divert Money From Water Projects. In October 2008, the Grand Junction Post Independent reported that “Amendment 52 is merely a ‘Trojan horse’ designed to confuse voters about the severance tax discussion, said Jim Spehar, who opposes the ballot measure. Spehar, a former Grand Junction City Council member and Mesa County commissioner, joined a bipartisan group of community leaders at a press conference Friday to speak against Amendment 52, which they say would earmark funds for maintenance and construction along Interstate 70 at the expense of state water projects.” [Grand Junction Post Independent, 10/26/2008]
Bipartisan Group Of West Slope Leaders Opposed Amendment 52: “It’s Putting Water Against Transportation.” In October 2008, the Grand Junction Post Independent reported that “State Rep. Bernie Buescher, D-Grand Junction, former Republican state Rep. Matt Smith, Grand Junction City Council Member Linda Romer Todd and Tom Burke, former chairman of the Colorado Wildlife Commission, also spoke against the measure. …But amending the Colorado Constitution to fix roads is ‘wrong,’ Buescher said. ‘We should not put transportation policy in our state constitution. Times change. It may not work in 15 years. It’s putting water against transportation.’” [Grand Junction Post Independent, 10/26/2008]
Republican Rep. Looper: “Our County Has Utilized These Water Funds For Wastewater Treatment Plans, Water Treatment Plans And Pipelines …I Believe This Amendment Will Ultimately Hurt Our District.” In October 2008, the Rocky Mountain News reported on Amendment 52: “Other Republican legislators have also come out against the measure, including Reps. Marsha Looper, of Calhan, and Ellen Roberts, of Durango. …But opponents say with Colorado continuing to grow, and pressure on water supplies increasing, more funds are crucial. ‘Our county has utilized these water funds for wastewater treatment plans, water treatment plans and pipelines,’ wrote Looper in an editorial against 52 in an El Paso County newspaper. ‘I believe this amendment will ultimately hurt our district . . . by diverting money from important and effective programs.’” [Rocky Mountain News, 10/24/2008]
Republican Leader Ament Blasted Gardner And Amendment 52 Co-Authors: “What The Hell Are These Johnny-Come-Lately (Lawmakers) Doing?” In October 2008, the Rocky Mountain News reported on Amendment 52: “‘What the hell are these Johnny-come-lately (lawmakers) doing?’ [Republican former state agricultural Commissioner Don] Ament said, of the initiative’s authors. ‘This is not where you do cutesy little partisan tricks; you don’t do that with our constitution.’ Gardner, unhappy with Ament’s position, phoned the former ag chief. Gardner described the conversation as polite. Ament was more detailed. ‘He said, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ ‘ Ament recalled. ‘I said, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ I think he may wish he hadn’t called me.’ Gardner said that exchange never happened.” [Rocky Mountain News, 10/24/2008]
Former Republican Staffer To Gov. Owens Derided The Effort: Amendment 52 Will Siphon Money From Water Projects Critical To Farmers. “A ballot initiative pitting water against roads has sparked a feud among influential Republicans. Amendment 52, backed by three up-and-coming Republican lawmakers – Sen. Josh Penry, of Grand Junction; Rep. Cory Gardner, of Yuma; and Rep. Frank McNulty, of Highlands Ranch – aims to shift some state drilling revenues from water and wildlife projects to road construction. They say there will still be plenty of money for water. But the measure is meeting resistance from fellow Republicans. One of the most prominent is former state agricultural Commissioner Don Ament, who is whipping up opposition on the plains. Ament, who worked for eight years under former Republican Gov. Bill Owens, has trashed the measure. He says it will siphon money from water projects critical to farmers and derides the effort to put the spending plan into the cluttered state constitution.” [Rocky Mountain News, 10/24/2008]
DESPITE WIDESPREAD OPPOSITION FROM BUSINESSES, FARMERS, WATER GROUPS, GARDNER CALLED OPPOSITION “ISOLATED”
Gardner Downplayed Opposition, And Called It “Isolated.” “Many water conservancy districts that supply farmers and other users also oppose Amendment 52, including the giant Colorado River District in Glenwood Springs. Gardner downplayed the opposition from Ament and others, calling it ‘isolated.’” [Rocky Mountain News, 10/24/2008]
Colorado Municipal League Opposed Amendment 52. In October 2008, the Grand Junction Post Independent reported that Grand Junction City Council Member Jim “Spehar said the Colorado Municipal League also opposes Amendment 52, saying the state constitution is the ‘wrong place to do this kind of work.’” [Grand Junction Post Independent, 10/26/2008]
Club 20, Colorado Water Congress, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado River Basin Roundtable, Colorado Farm Bureau and the Colorado Farmers Union opposed Amendment 52. [Grand Junction Post Independent, 10/26/2008]
Western Slope’s Club 20 “Balked” At Amendment 52. In November 2008, the Denver Business Journal, “Harris Sherman, executive director of the state Department of Natural Resources, opposed the measure, as did groups such as the Western Slope’s Club 20. They balked at embedding budget priorities in the state’s Constitution, where only a vote of the people can change them.” [Denver Business Journal, 11/4/2008]
HEADLINE: “Water groups decry Amendment 52: The ballot measure would divert funds to highway projects.” [Denver Post, 10/28/2008]
Colorado River District Spokesman on Amendment 52: When It Comes To Water Projects, “This Just Hurts.” In October 2008, the Denver Post reported that water groups opposed Amendment 52: “‘We know that we are facing a growing population and a need for water projects,’ said Chris Treese, a spokesman for the Colorado River District. ‘This just hurts.’” [Denver Post, 10/28/2008]
DNR Spokesman On Amendment 52: “At A Time When We Are Under Pressure To Get More Out Of Our Water Resource And Protect The Environment, This Would Seriously Hamper Us.” In October 2008, the Denver Post reported that water groups opposed Amendment 52: “Amendment 52 — which would redirect some oil-and-gas severance-tax revenues from water to highway projects — is drawing fire from water officials and conservation groups across the state. ‘At a time when we are under pressure to get more out of our water resource and protect the environment, this would seriously hamper us,’ said Harris Sherman, executive director of the state Department of Natural Resources. At risk, Sherman said, are more than $50 million in funds to do water supply planning, offer low-interest loans for local water projects and for programs to control invasive species, manage forest health and help endangered species.” [Denver Post, 10/28/2008]
The Colorado Forum, A Business Group, Opposed Amendment 52: Taking Money From Water Projects Is “Robbing Peter To Pay Paul.” “The Colorado Forum, a group of 65 CEOs and business professionals in the state, said Wednesday the group has decided it’s opposed to Amendment 52, a constitutional issue on the November ballot that would change how oil and gas severance taxes are spent — funneling money toward transportation projects, specifically Interstate 70 through the mountains. The Forum’s statement said its members believe road, highway and bridge projects need more money in the state, but the group didn’t like the idea of putting the formula into the state constitution — where it would take another vote of the people to change it in the future. The group also called the spending formula, which would reduce the percentage of money flowing to local communities and state agencies — including state-funded water projects, to create a money stream for transportation projects, ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul.’” [Denver Business Journal, 10/8/2008]
- The Colorado Forum Spokeswoman: “When We Create Problems For Our Water Needs In An Effort To Meet Our Transportation Needs We Haven’t Created A Real Solution.” “Gail Klapper, executive director of the [Colorado Forum, a group of 65 CEOs and business professionals in the state], said in a statement, ‘Our group believes the Constitution isn’t the right place for spending mandates. Additionally, Amendment 52 has pitted two very important interests against one another: water vs. transportation and our members don’t think this type of false choice is good policy. When we create problems for our water needs in an effort to meet our transportation needs we haven’t created a real solution.” [Denver Business Journal, 10/8/2008]
Trout Unlimited And Greeley Water Board Opposed Amendment 52, Said Diverting Water Funds Would Hurt The State. In October 2008, the Denver Post reported that water groups opposed Amendment 52: “Groups including Trout Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited, the Northern Colorado Conservancy District, the Greeley Water Board and water conservation board say redirecting dollars slated for water will hurt the state.” [Denver Post, 10/28/2008]
Ducks Unlimited Spokeswoman: “We Need Increased, Not Decreased, Funding To Manage That Growth And Plan Ahead For The Water Resources Colorado Will Need In The Near Future.” In an October 2008, Ducks Unlimited issued a release stating: “Ducks Unlimited says a proposed amendment to the Colorado constitution will rob Peter to pay Paul. Amendment 52 would take $225 million away from Colorado programs that need the dollars more today then ever. ‘We all know Colorado’s urban population is exploding,’ said Lynn Shore, state chairman for Colorado Ducks Unlimited. ‘We need increased, not decreased, funding to manage that growth and plan ahead for the water resources Colorado will need in the near future. With some of the dollars Amendment 52 would shift to other uses, Ducks Unlimited has been working with cities and other water users to provide for their water needs, while taking care of Colorado’s wildlife habitat.’” [Ducks Unlimited, press release, 10/23/2008]
- Ducks Unlimited Biologist: “Unfortunately, Current Programs Would Not Even Have Been Enough To Meet Future Water Supply Needs, Much Less After This Potential Cut.” In an October 2008, Ducks Unlimited issued a release stating: “Ducks Unlimited works with farmers, landowners, cities and large water users to find conservation-friendly solutions to their water needs. In the last 12 months, Ducks Unlimited received almost $1.5 million for conservation programs from the water conservation board, nearly twice the amount DU receives for this work from any other source. ‘DU is working closely with the Colorado Water Conservation Board to provide win-win water and wetlands conservation projects that benefit both water users and wildlife,’ [Matt Reddy, regional biologist for Ducks Unlimited in Colorado] said. ‘Unfortunately, current programs would not even have been enough to meet future water supply needs, much less after this potential cut.’” [Ducks Unlimited, press release, 10/23/2008]
- Ducks Unlimited: “Amendment 52 will leave conservation water projects high and dry” [Ducks Unlimited, press release, 10/23/2008]
Udall Said He Opposed Amendment 52. “Udall adroitly answered ‘no’ on 52, which keeps the state’s oil-and-gas severance tax at the same low rate (compared to neighboring states), but dedicates those funds to road improvements, specifically along the I-70 corridor.” [Colorado Springs Independent, 10/7/2008]
Colorado Voters Rejected Amendment 52 By 63 Percent. “The contest over Amendment 52 turned into a battle largely between water and asphalt, and water won. The measure aimed to take surplus dollars flowing into Colorado’s severance-tax trust fund and divert them from water projects to transportation needs, ‘giving first priority to reducing congestion on the Interstate 70 corridor.’ It would have written such a diversion into the Colorado Constitution. As of late Tuesday night, the measure was getting trounced, with 63 percent against and 36 percent in favor.” [Denver Post, 11/5/2008]