Point, counterpoint

Tuesday's debate still not over for House candidates

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— Grand County Democrat Andy Gold made a $3 billion gaffe during Tuesday's candidates debate in Steamboat Springs.

Gold is running for the state House of Representatives in House District 57 against incumbent state Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, and Oak Creek Libertarian Mike Kien. The three squared off for a half-hour debate Tuesday at Steamboat Springs High School, during which frontrunners White and Gold questioned one another's positions on issues including tax policy and Colorado's resort industry. Gold accused White, a three-term legislator in the state House, of supporting excessive tax breaks for the energy and ski resort industries. White responded by calling Gold's statements "damn lies."

Gold admitted Thursday that he erred significantly at one point in the debate.

When questioning White about a Colorado program that allows energy industries to receive tax credits on a portion of their mineral severance taxes - a program that White supports, Gold said the program cost the state $3 billion in 2005. White disputed the figure.

On Thursday, Gold said the state Assessor's Office informed him that the energy tax credit actually cost the state $175 million in 2005. Gold said he heard the $3 billion figure from informal sources.

"That was just a mistake that I made in trying to interpolate the numbers," said Gold, who has said that if elected he will gradually "unwind" the tax credit. "$175 million can still buy a lot of teachers."

White said Thursday that the tax credit is invaluable to keep resulting energy impact grants, which are paid to communities in areas affected by energy exploration, in the coffers of local governments. The Hayden School District, for example, received $345,000 in mineral lease funds this year.

"If you unwind that credit, those communities would no longer directly get those mineral tax impacts," White said. "The ($3 billion) number is wildly incorrect, and so is his suggestion that I was somehow in bed with the oil and gas industry."

The two also butted heads about legislation White sponsored regarding different tax rates for commercial hotels and residential condominiums.

"A few years ago I carried a bill that defined what a condo is and what a hotel is," White said, citing a need to preserve lesser tax rates for renters of residential vacation homes in order to boost the number of available beds in resort communities such as Steamboat Springs.

"A ski area without a bed base to rent is a pretty unsuccessful ski area," White said. "A commercial tax rate would have a huge, chilling effect on the sale of condominiums in resort areas in Colorado. Nobody in the industry got a tax break."

Gold disagreed.

"The common wisdom is that this was done as a service for Ski Corp.," Gold said, referring to Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp., which operates the Steamboat Ski Area. "The tax burden was transferred to citizens. I'm seeing that pattern coming along - of stealing from the poor and giving to the rich. I maintain that's a pattern Democrats in this district have been fighting for the past six years."

- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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