Steamboat Springs State senate candidates Al White and Ken Brenner butted heads Wednesday night about Amendment 58, a state-level ballot measure that would increase severance taxes paid by oil and gas companies.
White, a Republican state representative from Hayden, urged the audience at the Routt County League of Women Voters' candidate forum to vote against the "poorly written" measure, while former Steamboat Springs City Councilman Brenner advocated for the tax increase.
"Too little money comes back to the state," White said, echoing the position taken by Republican U.S. House candidate Wayne Wolf that Amendment 58 could reduce energy and mineral impact grant funds available from the Department of Local Affairs.
Brenner and White are vying for the state Senate seat being vacated by term-limited Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs. White is term-limited in the state House of Representatives after eight years.
Also present Wednesday night at the League of Women Voters' forum were candidates or representatives for races including U.S Senate, U.S. House for the 3rd Congressional District, state House District 57, State Board of Education and 14th Judicial District Attorney. Moderator Mark Fischer fielded questions posed by the audience.
On Amendment 58, House District 57 candidate Todd Hagenbuch, a Democrat, described himself as "personally conflicted."
"This particular bill, I do have some concerns with the way it's written, and I have some concerns with the disbursement," Hagenbuch said.
Hot Sulphur Springs Republican Randy Baumgardner, Hagenbuch's opponent, spoke of his opposition to Amendment 58 and sparred with Hagenbuch about whether the costs of the severance tax would be passed on to consumers.
Amendment 58 would remove tax credits for the oil and gas industry, generating about $321 million a year to be used for college scholarships, wildlife protection, renewable energy and water projects, and transportation.
Also at Wednesday's forum, state Senate candidates expressed their support for Amendment 59 - creating what White termed a "rainy day fund" for education.
Amendment 59, backed by a bipartisan coalition including House Speaker Andrew Romanoff and state Treasurer Cary Kennedy, would create a savings account for school funding intended to resolve issues with Amendment 23, which was passed by state voters in 2000. That measure required Colorado to increase its support for public schools to the national average - a mandate that left the legislature scrambling to the find money elsewhere in the budget during tight economic times.
Brenner called Amendment 59 "an important first step" to fixing the state's budget problems by unraveling existing problems.
"Most importantly, it honors the true intent of TABOR, because it allows you to still vote on raising your taxes," Brenner said.
White noted the ballot measure would relieve the obligation of the general fund to support education at a specified level without concern to revenues, but he said Wednesday that he still was concerned with some of the restrictions that will remain with the State Education Fund created by Amendment 23.