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Don Coram: Let’s play Fiscal Note Jeopardy!

While the cat’s away, the mice will play.

That is exactly what is going on in the Colorado General Assembly. With all the COVID-19 issues during the last session, the executive branch and regulatory agencies had full control of government. It appears the regulatory agencies are still trying to flex their muscles.

Some background: Every bill introduced to the Legislature comes with a “fiscal note,” a memo from the nonpartisan legislative staff in which they have estimated the cost of each bill, should it be enacted. In the past, state agencies used these fiscal notes to gain favor or opposition for bills.

Last week, I had SB 21-034, Funding for Colorado’s Water Future, heard in the Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee. This bill was to start the conversation of funding for Colorado’s water future.

To bring a little history to the subject, former Gov. John Hickenlooper directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board in spring 2013 to create a plan for Colorado’s water future. When asked, “Where does the Legislature and general public fit into that plan?” the director of the Department of Natural Resources told us we did not.

So, former Sen. Ellen Roberts and I drafted legislation in 2015 to bring the conversation to the people who live in the designated river basins. Our largest meeting was in Durango. From those meetings, the Colorado Water Plan was drafted.

Despite all the information gathered, the Colorado Water Plan has never been really implemented because it lacks a stable funding source.

So, to restart the conversation, I drafted a bill on the topic in 2019; it also sat on the shelf for two years before introduction. The measure would send to the voters in November 2022 the question of creating a new enterprise to fund Colorado’s water future. That enterprise would combine the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Water and Power Authority to provide grants to fund water issues such as treating domestic water, gray water and infrastructure projects, among others.

Last year, I finally introduced the bill, but postponed it so it could be discussed by the Interim Water Committee at the annual water convention. Then along came COVID-19, and there was no Interim Water Committee meeting.

Now to the source of my current frustration. Last week, I introduced SB 21-034. The fiscal note states that CWCB – which already has a grant program for funds generated from severance tax – would require 7.6 new employees and over $1,25 million to implement the bill in its first year, and more than $1 million annually to maintain – shockingly high amounts.

The entire Agriculture Committee was frustrated by the Department of Natural Resources’ position on the projected costs. Estimated cost to the average household was $1.59 per month and annual revenue was in excess of $38.2 million. Democrats killed the bill, but the message was sent.

SB 21-105 is another example of fiscal note jeopardy. Amendment 114, reintroduction of the gray wolf, states that a plan for reintroduction shall be completed by Dec. 31, 2023. In addressing the Colorado Wildlife Commission, Gov. Jared Polis seemed to want to have wolves on the ground in early 2022. Let me make it perfectly clear: I am not challenging the vote of the people. I just want to ensure CPW implements reintroduction as prescribed in Amendment 114.

Side-by-side comparisons of the bill to the amendment demonstrated they were the same, except for the bill adds reimbursement for loss of chickens and alternative livestock to wolves (in addition to livestock already mentioned in the bill, such as sheep, cattle, goats and pigs). The state’s Blue Book (a document that estimates fiscal impacts of bills) projected first-year costs at $344,000 and second-year costs at $467,000.

But now for the rub: Those must be some expensive chickens because the fiscal note asks for $841,414 in the first year and one full-time employee, and $1,003,945 and three FTEs in the second year; $300,000 a year for a meeting facilitator; and $600,000 to host meetings for two years. I want to be that facilitator – it seems to be a whole lot more profitable and less time-consuming than this legislator gig!

Once again, Agriculture Committee members railed against such asinine projections. Democrats defeated the bill on a party-line vote. So there is no funding for the wolf reintroduction.

Tell me, whose ox gets gored? Education, transportation, health and environment, Department of Corrections, the governor’s office, or what? Where will that money be found?

On March 20, Colorado may have had an air quality alert from all the meat that was grilled or served in restaurants throughout the state. The governor’s “Meat-Out” Proclamation certainly had a ripple effect in perhaps setting the record for the most meat consumed in one day in Colorado.

I don’t think that was the plan, but I extend my gratitude to all those who stood with Colorado ranchers and farmers and celebrated with barbecues.

FYI, the “cat” is in the building!

Sen. Don Coram is a Republican representing District 6 of the Colorado General Assembly.

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