July 4, 2008

Oil Firms Pull Out Big Bucks to Fight Plan Companies Have Given $3.6 Million to Defeat Proposed Initiative

By Tillie Fong

Big money is rolling in from major oil companies to fight a proposed ballot measure that would increase state tax revenues from the oil and gas industry.

According to a financial statement filed Thursday, Chevron Corp., EnCana Oil and Gas Inc., and Williams Cos. each gave $1 million to Coloradans for a Stable Economy, a group fighting the initiative.

Another half-million dollars came from Pioneer Natural Resources, while Questar Exploration and Production Co. contributed $100,000.

So far, reported expenditures by the group total slightly less than $200,000.

The early contributions are an indication of the resources that will be expended by the industry to fight the initiative backed by Gov. Bill Ritter. "When one industry is singled out for such a massive tax increase, of course they're going to fight it," said Dan Hopkins, spokesman for Coloradans for a Stable Economy.

Under the proposed ballot measure, the state would do away with a tax credit that saves the oil and gas industry $200 million to $300 million a year of severance taxes.

If the initiative passes, 60 percent of the new revenue would go to funding college scholarships, 15 percent to roads and clean water projects in areas affected by the energy boom, 15 percent to protect wildlife that are losing habitat to drilling, and 10 percent for the development of clean energy sources.

Backers of the initiative, who have yet to file a financial statement, said on Thursday they weren't surprised by the hefty contributions.

"We always knew it would be a David-and-Goliath struggle to end Colorado's $300 million subsidy for the world's richest industry," said George Merritt, spokesman for A Smarter Colorado, which supports the measure.

A Smarter Colorado is still collecting the 76,047 signatures needed to put the initiative on the November ballot.

Insiders have predicted the oil and gas industry would spend from $15 million to $20 million to defeat the measure.


At issue

* The ballot initiative asks voters to eradicate a property tax credit that allows oil and gas companies to deduct 87.5 percent of their local property tax bills from their state severance tax payments.

$300 million will be raised annually for the state if it's approved, with money directed toward college scholarships, projects in communities affected by energy development and projects to boost alternative energy and help wildlife.

Originally published by Tillie Fong, Rocky Mountain News.

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