Colorado editorial roundup |

Colorado editorial roundup

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Less turf defending with state water plan is a positive thing

One of the consequences of Colorado’s first official water plan is that it tends to exaggerate tensions among the river basins in the state.

Any thoughtful analysis of the state’s water supply seems to devolve into an argument about the need for new trans-mountain diversions, instantly pitting the “not one more drop” Western Slope against the thirsty Front Range.

But there’s a strong spirit of cooperation among the state’s high-level water managers that most of us never see. A good example is “The Call,” a weekly conference call among reservoir operators (some owned by Front Range entities), irrigation companies, The Colorado River District, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials, the Bureau of Reclamation, hydrologists, a meterologist and others. The purpose of The Call is to make sure High Country dams are releasing enough water into the mainstem of the Colorado to meet flows set by Fish and Wildlife for healthy fish habitat.

Call it a microcosm of the cooperation we’ll need to see on a statewide level for the state water plan to be more than a study collecting dust on a shelf. Ahead of their annual Water Seminar, officials with the Colorado River District met with The Sentinel’s editorial board Wednesday to share some thoughts about the state’s water challenges.

A “Miracle May” and wet summer kept diversions from the Colorado River to a minimum, said Eric Kuhn, general manager for the district. El Niño predictions point to healthy winter snowpack for some portions of the state.

That means there are no immediate concerns about a water deficit, but water managers must continue to preach conservation because “as certain as the Greek debt crisis,” drier days are coming, Kuhn said. “We can’t do anything about supply, so we have to do something about demand.”

Most Front Range communities have done “a good job” of implementing conservation measures, said Chris Treece, the district’s external affairs manager. The Western Slope must follow suit. “We haven’t been down that road and we need to look at our own practices and metrics and see where we can reduce demand.”

Expect more emphasis on integrating land-use planning and water planning, Treece said. Communities can do a better job of addressing water demands and supplies for different end users. City planners and city councils have to get behind the conservation message for the state water plan to succeed.

Meanwhile the Front Range is going to have to get aggressive about limiting turf. Cities like Las Vegas, Albuquerque and San Diego have saved a lot of water by offering “cash for grass” incentives to convert lawns to xeriscapes. Could Denver take a similar tack?

“It’s on the horizon, but no one is talking about it,” Kuhn said.

Emphasizing conservation on both sides of the Divide can neutralize the fruitless transmountain diversion debate. During the Water Seminar, Kuhn reiterated that diversions are a less pressing issue than preserving existing uses of the available water.

Pushing water to the fore of the public’s consciousness remains a huge challenge. For the overwhelming majority of the state’s residents, water flows with the turn of a faucet knob. How do you make people understand that it’s a scarce resource in this state when it’s seemingly so abundant?

It’s important for people to have this water awareness before things get so dire that water restrictions are imposed. The way to avoid becoming California is to conserve enough water that you never reach the point at which drastic measures are enacted. One of the benefits of the water plan is that it serves as an educational tool as it ripples into the everyday lives of the state’s residents.

At least one Front Range developer is trying to market a Douglas County housing development as water friendly, Treece noted. If the market succeeds in making that a selling point, it’ll be much easier for water utilities and municipalities to begin pushing smart development, which they’re going to have to do anyway.

One thing is certain: The folks at the Colorado River District don’t seem to be defending turf as much as they’re trying to promote a sensible statewide approach to conserving water.

Their message seems to be we’re all in this together. Making small sacrifices now prevents a bruising battle down the road.

The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel, Sept. 13

TABOR, taxing marijuana needs to be revisited

Colorado voters have twice endorsed the idea of taxing marijuana. But because of an arcane and fundamentally ridiculous peculiarity of Colorado law, they will now have to say so a third time in order to keep the money.

But before they can do that, the state will have to forgo an estimated $3.7 million in marijuana tax revenue. That happens today, Sept. 16, with a one-day suspension of state marijuana taxes.

With Amendment 64 in 2012, Colorado voters legalized recreational marijuana. While it left the details to the Legislature, that ballot measure also explicitly envisioned taxing pot. The supporters of Amendment 64 not only went along, they touted taxing marijuana as a selling point.

Our lawmakers then crafted Proposition AA to establish the marijuana taxes. Colorado voters approved that in 2013.

But the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR amendment, passed in 1992, requires that when asked to approve a tax increase, two estimates must be presented in the Blue Book provided to voters. One is the estimated revenue from the proposed new tax for the first year. The other is the estimated total state revenue for that fiscal year subject to the TABOR spending limit. If either of the actual figures exceed the estimate, the new tax must be refunded in its entirety. This applies only to the first year of a new tax.

For fiscal year 2014-15, the first year of the pot tax, marijuana revenue was actually less than the Blue Book figure. But the total state revenue figure is well over the estimate.

Under TABOR, the state will be required to refund all of the marijuana taxes collected in that first year — unless the voters pass Proposition BB, on the November ballot. That measure would allow the state to keep the marijuana tax revenue.

There are two other provisions at play. Another part of TABOR says that if a refund is triggered, the associated tax rate must be reduced by the same percentage as the refund — 100 percent. (Never mind that the pot tax did not cause the violation. The Blue Book estimates were part of Amendment 64.) However, voter-approved Proposition AA gave the Legislature the authority to raise or lower the state marijuana taxes as long as neither exceeds 15 percent.

The fiscal year closed out at the end of June and state revenue numbers were certified Tuesday. That means the state is now officially in violation of TABOR. To comply, the marijuana tax has been cut to zero. But with the authority granted it under Proposition AA, the Legislature has reinstated the taxes effective Thursday. The result is a one-day marijuana tax holiday and an estimated $3.7 million lost from the state treasury.

There had been talk of cutting the tax at 2 a.m. and reinstating it at 4 a.m. thereby losing nothing. But the feeling was that there needed to be a meaningful cut — and more than $3 million is meaningful by any standard.

The tax holiday is regrettable, but voters should approve Proposition BB and let the state keep the 2014-15 pot tax money. Taxing marijuana was one of the principal reasons for legalizing it and there is no reason the state should not keep the revenue generated. That is especially true in that were Proposition BB to fail, the money would be refunded in large part to growers and consumers of marijuana, whereas if the state keeps it the money can benefit all of Colorado’s schools and kids.

Then perhaps the state can revisit at least parts of TABOR.

The Durango Herald, Sept. 15

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