- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel, Feb. 11, on oil and gas taxes:

We alluded earlier this week to a concerted effort on the part of Western Slope governments to preserve the status quo on energy severance taxes.

The idea being that the oil and gas industry is showing signs of a fragile recovery after an eight-year slide and that altering the tax structure would throw cold water on any hope of greater production in the Piceance Basin.

As the Sentinel’s Gary Harmon noted, no legislation has been introduced to boost rates, but local government officials were concerned that the idea was being kicked around at the end of the last session. The Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado initiated a working group to pencil out the implications. Their conclusion: A rate increase would yield diminishing returns for local governments, school districts and special taxing districts that depend on natural gas royalties as an important source of revenue.

Raising the rates 12 percent (a figure we’ll get to in a minute) would lift revenues from the production of Piceance gas dramatically - from $69 million to $97 million per year at current production rates.

But it would strain future drilling and reduce capital allocation in western Colorado, the working group concluded. In contrast, retaining current rates and allowing Piceance production to grow by an additional 1 billion cubic feet per day would generate around $117 million per year in severance tax for Colorado.

It’s a numbers game. Would you rather have a bigger chunk of a smaller pie or a smaller percentage of a much bigger pie? The answer hinges on the likelihood that retaining current rates actually results in more production.

Hypotheticals aside, elected officials from Mesa, Garfield and Moffat counties are in lockstep on this issue and they have the support of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, the Rifle Regional Economic Development Council and the Grand Junction and Rifle chambers of commerce.

Their position is understandable. We agree that now isn’t the time to raise rates, but it begs the question: At what point will it be OK to consider a change? Because the argument that raising rates stymies production seems to have no bounds.

Nevertheless, the AGNC is smart to try to get in front of this issue. State lawmakers have diverted nearly $400 million in severance tax revenues to backfill the state budget - money that was designated for communities impacted by energy development.

The question of raising rates flared up because a state Supreme Court ruling last year required the state to refund millions of dollars in severance taxes to producers who were wrongly denied tax deductions. The ruling also affects the state’s ability to collect the same amount of revenue to which it’s accustomed, prompting suggestions of a rate increase - 12 percent - just to keep revenue static.

AGNC has engaged state Reps. Bob Rankin, Dan Thurlow and Yeulin Willett, all of whom agree that severance tax policy is critical to the function of local government in this part of the state. Assuming a rate increase is off the table, the Legislature should take steps to ensure that energy funds are not being used to prop up the state budget, Willett said.

We couldn’t agree more. The AGNC is right to take a position on rates, but its biggest concern should be making the Legislature live up to the intent expressed in state law that a portion of severance taxes should go to the communities impacted by extraction. Let’s keep that portion where it’s supposed to be.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2kveIxj


The Durango Herald, Feb. 12, on marijuana sales:

Marijuana sales in Colorado for the calendar year 2016 grew 33 percent compared with last year, according to figures released last week, to $1.3 billion. That is a “B.”

For the state, there had been $700 million in sales during 2014 and $996 million in sales during 2015. The mix between recreational and medical marijuana sales revenues for 2016 was 2-to-1, $875 million to $438 million.

The 2016 sales led to $200 million in taxes for the fiscal year ended June 30. Given the revenue figures, that will be significantly higher for the current fiscal year. Marijuana is taxed at both the wholesale and the retail stages, totaling about 25 percent.

At home, the city of Durango is reporting approximately $10 million (an “M”) in marijuana sales for 2016 in the central business district. To provide some perspective, that exceeds liquor sales in the central business district, and hardware and utilities. From the other end of the spectrum, marijuana sales were less than sales in galleries, sporting goods stores and miscellaneous retail locations. Grocery and drug sales, and restaurants and bar business, at about $70 million each far exceeded other categories, as can be expected in the central business district.

The summer and early fall months, July through October, were the strongest marijuana sales months statewide in 2016.

Whether sales can be broken down according to the purchaser’s residence, is uncertain. Non-Coloradans cannot purchase as much marijuana as can residents, yet there is a marijuana tourism component to sales.

State marijuana taxes fund school construction, addiction-treatment services and law enforcement, uses included in the ballot language.

To help fund pre-K thorough 12th grade education, funding which has fallen behind its constitutional mandate, Gov. John Hickenlooper has requested that marijuana taxes be increased by 50 percent. If that is approved, the effect on the volume of marijuana sales is uncertain. It may well have no effect.

Marijuana advocates who tied significant tax rates to the approval of recreational marijuana knew what they were doing. Marijuana has quickly become a noted component of overall tax revenue, making its use much less likely to be ended, at least by the state. Whether the president and his attorney general turn their attention to the several states that have approved medical or recreational marijuana remains to be seen.

Given the size of this new business, it is appropriate that Durango and La Plata County are closely following its growth and considering adjusting the regulations that apply to it.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2lcSzYL


The Denver Post, Feb. 14, on the death penalty:

The failures of Colorado’s capital punishment system are almost too lengthy to list, and yet prosecutors continue to sporadically and unsuccessfully ask jurors to sentence convicted criminals to death.

We urge Colorado lawmakers to repeal the death penalty by approving Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman’s Senate Bill 95, which would replace capital punishment with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

It’s time the state stopped spinning its wheels in pursuit of death and instead locked its worst criminals away to live out an insignificant existence in a cell with few comforts.

SB 95 wouldn’t impact the fates of the three men currently on death row; it would only eliminate the potential for others in the future to be sentenced to death.

It would save the state millions in both the prosecution and defense of murderers and an untold number of judicial man hours that have so infrequently resulted in death. The track record of death sentences in Colorado is bleak.

Let’s start in 1997, the last time someone was executed in Colorado. Gary Davis, who raped, tortured and murdered Virginia “Ginny” May, sat on death row for a decade filled with execution dates and stays.

A month before he was put to death by injection, Davis went on TV to apologize for killing May.

In response, Rod MacLennan, the victim’s father, stated: “The state has spoken, everything is in place now. Why continue to bring it up? He’s one guy we want to forget, and if they knew him, all the people would want to forget him. Why bring his memory up for us to look at?”

Davis was a constant media spectacle for 10 years while he awaited death.

Murderer Frank Rodriguez came close to being killed in 1996, but 42 hours and 39 minutes before his execution, a judge granted a stay. Instead Rodriguez died in 2002 of Hepatitis C complications, 18 years after his crime.

Between 2001 and 2005, another five death row inmates had their sentences changed to life in prison for a variety of problems with legal processes.

And now we come to Colorado’s three remaining death row inmates.

Gov. John Hickenlooper spared the life of Nathan Dunlap with a temporary reprieve in 2013. Dunlap, convicted of killing four people at an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese’s in 1993, still sits on death row awaiting a final decision on his life even though all of his appeals have expired.

The beginning appeals of the two other death row inmates have been stalled in court for years, despite a 1997 change in law intended to expedite the process. The appeals process has been so mired in uncertainty with judicial changes and motions that it will stretch on for years.

And finally, two Colorado juries have recently demonstrated an unwillingness to sentence anyone to death, sparing the life of James Holmes in August 2015 after convicting him of killing 12 people at the Century Aurora 16 theater, and a few weeks later Dexter Lewis, who stabbed five people to death in a Denver bar.

Guzman said these cases all demonstrate a system that is broken beyond repair and needs to be repealed. We agree.

Editorial: https://dpo.st/2lfdmv2


The (Longmont) Times-Call, Feb. 11, on a law protecting people who break into cars to save lives:

When it comes to protecting property or life, the law should side with life. So Colorado lawmakers this session should act to protect Good Samaritans who break into cars to save the lives of at-risk people and animals locked inside.

It’s a bit surprising that there isn’t already a law protecting these good citizens from criminal prosecution and civil liability, so now that such a bill has been introduced, the legislature should work diligently to get this into law before summer temperatures hit their peak and another person dies.

It is imperative that anyone who can help act fast when they see a person, especially a small child, locked in a car in hot weather. The temperature is typically 20 degrees hotter inside a vehicle than outside.

That’s rarely a concern this time of year, but before long, daily high temperatures in the 70s or 80s will mean that car interiors will become dangerous for any person or animal stuck inside. Since 1990, 795 children have died due to heat stroke after being trapped in hot cars, according to kidsandcars.org.

Less frequently but definitely a concern in places such as Colorado, children are left in freezing cars, still a deadly situation.

The natural response of anyone wanting to spare a child, or an at-risk adult or even a pet is to bust a window or otherwise break into the vehicle and get that person or pet out.

But uncertainty about what they’re legally allowed to do might cause a person to delay acting. Do I break into someone else’s car? Do I do it now? Do I wait for help?

That’s where Rep. Lori Saine’s “Immunity For Emergency Rescue From Locked Vehicle” bill comes in.

Saine’s proposal to protect those who rescue children, at-risk adults and household pets locked in cars is a reasonable addition to the Good Samaritan laws already on Colorado’s books.

The bill would protect those who break into cars but only if such an action is the last choice to save someone locked inside. Before breaking in, the rescuer must verify that the car is locked, make attempts to find the owner, and contact emergency personnel. Then, do the minimal amount of damage to rescue the person or animal inside.

This bill still might need some work before making its way to the governor, which it should. In its current form, it allows the person rendering assistance to leave the scene, so long as he or she leaves a note with a name and contact information and calls law enforcement or another responding agency to leave that same information.

That makes sense, especially if the individual takes the at-risk person or animal to a hospital or other facility for help. But the law - even while protecting the Good Samaritan - shouldn’t suggest that the person leave the at-risk individual or animal alone at the scene. It’s not that someone who cares enough to save another person’s life would then abandon that person, but if there is a way to craft the law in a way that discourages this from happening, that would be best.

House Bill 17-1179 is a common-sense solution to a real problem and should empower Coloradans to save lives. We trust that this bill, which already has bipartisan support, will succeed in both houses and get the governor’s signature.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2lNFym4

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