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October 22, 2008 12:14 PM

George Merritt, spokesman for A Smarter Colorado, on Amendment 58

George_Merritt(P) Hello everyone. A big thanks to Mark for having me on today, and apologies in advance for the coming typos. For what it is worth, my wife and I voted last night - it took us all of 15 minutes. Off we go ...

Mark_Wolf(Q) Via e-mail from PWA: Do you not think it would have been more palatable to the voters of Colorado if the amendment was to simply repeal the tax abatement, and not to also redistribute the funds to college scholarships and the like? During a year that people are paying $4/gallon, there should have been more than ample sentiment against oil companies to get this passed. Seeking to mark the savings to distribution smacks of pork at least on the surface.
George_Merritt(A) What we see from voters is they want to know where their money is going. You are right that people do not think it makes sense to give a $300 million tax credit to oil companies, but the strength of Amendment 58 is that we end that subsidy and invest in families and students. I don't think of college students and their families as "pork."

watermelon5(Q) The No on 58 Campaign keeps telling us that this will make our prices at the pump go up. Will this really happen?
George_Merritt(A) No. It's important to note that our opposition is funded completely by oil and gas companies. They want to hang on to their $300 million subsidy, so they are spending $1 million on those ads. But here's the deal: the math just doesn't work. Colorado can't affect the the world-wide crude oil market - so their claims about prices at the pump are just silly. As for their claims about home heating prices - well Xcel's director of gas supplies, Tim Carter, summed up that claim yesterday in another publication. He said "the implication that it's a pass-through to Coloradans is really a falsehood."

janetheplumber(Q) Has anyone wondered why the industry has spent over $10 million fighting this? Aren't they taxed here at like the lowest rate in the U.S., if not the world?
George_Merritt(A) It's true that Colorado is among the most competitive states for the oil and gas industry. You'll see in your blue book that Colorado has the lowest "severance" tax on the industry in the region. That's because Colorado has had this unique tax credit for the last 30 years. Now it is $300 million a year. In fact, your blue book points out that if we don't pass Amendment 58, we'll give the oil and gas industry more than $1 Billion over the next 4 years

adam08(Q) How do Colorado's current severance taxes compare to those in surrounding states? How would they match up if Amendment 58 were to pass?
George_Merritt(A) Good question. The state's non partisan legislative council studied exactly that recently. They looked at all the different taxes on the industry state by state. What they found is that Colorado is among the lowest in our region. We have an overall effective rate of 5.7 percent. Wyoming has nearly twice that rate at 11.2 percent and New Mexico is at 9.4 percent If we end Colorado's oil and gas tax credit with Amendment 58, we'll be right about average at 9 percent.

daveT(Q) Who is the main opposition to Amendment 58?
George_Merritt(A) Oil companies, Dave. Exxon, Chevron, Conoco, BP ... the list goes on. They all gave at least $1 million to fight Amendment 58. They want to keep this huge subsidy in Colorado. Our point is simply that it does not make sense to give those companies a $300 million tax credit every year when we could make better investments in our state. For example, voting yes on Amendment 58 and ending the subsidy will allow us to triple the need-based financial aid for higher education in Colorado.

Noname(Q) How do you define "Need based financial aid"...the last I saw the GPA requirement was 2.5...hardly strong academically, would you not say?
George_Merritt(A) Great question. "Need" is a term in the financial aid world that calculates what a particular student's financial situation ... Income, the number of children in the family going to college, the amount of other scholarships or aid the student receive from other sources and the amount the student is able to pay. I'll post and follow up on the 2.5

George_Merritt(P) As for the 2.5 gpa, we want these scholarships to help as much as they can. Coloradan's don't want a handout, but plenty of student have a bad semester. We have a chance to really make a difference in the live of people who want to work hard

jibbons(C) For the record, I am a recent college graduate who was awarded a grant for having a 2.73 HS GPA. I then maintained a 3.5 through college. 2.5 is not a deadend student.

mandelbrot(Q) Why was this subsidy provided to the oil and gas industry in the first place?
George_Merritt(A) It was part of a deal in legislature in 1977 to give the industry an incentive when the severance tax was created. The trouble is that there was not "sunset" on this credit. For instance, federal renewable energy credits had to be renewed this year because, smartly, they had an expiration date. This credit didn't. Now Colorado is the only state giving a $300 million subsidy to oil and gas every year. Yikes!

ltrider(Q) What about the opposition's claims about out of state donors to the Yes on 58 campaign? Is this true?
George_Merritt(A) I just saw this one last night. Wow. Here's a campaign funded with $11 million exclusively from oil and gas companies like Exxon (which gave $1 million) pointing fingers at us. It's galling. This same group of oil interest actually referred to college student and their families as "special interests" in one ad.

buff1(Q) Who is George Merritt?
Mark_Wolf(A) He is the spokesman for A Smarter Colorado, the group pushing passage of Amendment 58.

buff1(Q) What is your response to the argument that eliminating the existing tax credit will reduce oil&gas production in CO (and related severance tax revenue to the state) as the marginally economic projects will become uneconomic?
George_Merritt(A) Another great question. Oil companies have made that claim as they campaign here, but they are telling their investors another story. Colorado is blessed particularly with natural gas and the pressure nationally is to drill MORE not less. Besides, Colorado is one of the most competitive states in the region. They can make plenty of money without us giving them a $300 million tax credit every year

taxritter(Q) Mr. Merritt -- Why is the Governor seeking more and more revenue from the taxpayers when we already passed Ref C to give government more money? When will the governor admit "enough is enough" from the taxpayers?
George_Merritt(A) That's interesting name, sir. To be clear, Amendment 58 end a tax credit for oil and gas companies. If we don't pass it, another $300 million will go to an industry that is already making record profits. Amendment 58 makes better investments in our state.

philvh(Q) George: I just got back from the Western Slope (Delta), where I saw a LOT more support for 58 than I'd otherwise expect from "Republican, oil & gas country" -> Is there anyhthing to the No-on-58 campaign other than a HUGE $ effort by Big Oil & Gas???
George_Merritt(A) I'll just say this: I think - despite an $11 million fear campaign from oil and gas companies, people in Colorado get it. We want a robust oil and gas industry here and we are proud to have it. But it doesn't make sense to give them a $300 million tax credit every year.

colorado08(Q) You state that big oil is funding the campaign. But big enviros (Nature Conservancy, Environment Colorado, and others) are funding yours - they are eligible for millions of dollars in grants if amendment 58 passes. Will you prohibit the 58 grants from going to groups that have funded your campaign?
George_Merritt(A) Hey Dan! We're proud to have the support we have. We knew from the begining this would be a David-and-Goliath campaign against an opposition with unlimited resources. To your point, Amendment 58 does invest significantly in protecting the mountains, water and wildlife that make our state so unique. Those grants are awarded competitively thruough the incredibly successful and popular Great Outdoors Colorado.

jrp(Q) George - I know a portion of the resources generated by Amendment 58 would go to wildlife habitat conservation...preserving Colorado's natural heritage. Why is this money needed...doesn't the state spend enough on those things now? Thanks.
George_Merritt(A) Instead of giving this huge subsidy to oil and gas Amendment 58 allows us to make investments in things like wildlife habitat. We seeing huge growth - not just in oil and gas exploration, but population as well. We can protect those areas that are so important to Coloradans
George_Merritt(P) you all can learn more at www.voteyeson58.com

RichinDenver(Q) How would this measure help with clean energy and expanded open space protection?
George_Merritt(A) Amendment 58 will allow us to invest more in Colorado's new energy economy. We've seen the benefits of that: Vestas, a wind power company, is bringing $700 million and 2,300 new jobs to colorado. In fact - there is a story today that Brighton is the fastest growing city in the nation in large part because of Vestas. Pueblo is about have the largest wind turbine tower manufacturing plant in the world. Colorado is really poised to be a leader.

Mark_Wolf(Q) How many students in Colorado would qualify for help, and how much money would they actually get?
George_Merritt(A) Fantastic question. This would mean an additional $150 million for help with tuition every year. That's enough to help about two-thirds of the families in Colorado. The guidelines laid out by the Colorado Commission on Higher education show that would mean up $6,000 for a student a CU-Boulder or CSU, depending on need.

jibbons(Q) How does Colorado compare to other states in terms of tax breaks for energy companies, and how would we compare if 58 were to pass?
George_Merritt(A) We are the only one that give a $300 million credit to this industry. That's why we say we cam make better investments.

Noname(Q) George - this may have been covered, but why not just repeal the tax and collect it to the state general fund? Why is it already being claimed by what can be easily perceived as Ritter's pet projects?
George_Merritt(A) We did cover this at the begining, but Coloradans don't want a blank check. The Governor wisely laid out in detail how Amendment 58 will work.

Mark_Wolf(Q) Thanks to George Merritt for his time and for all the excellent questions.
George_Merritt(A) Thanks again to everyone, and to you Mark. Again, if you would like to learn more there is lots of information at www.voteyeson58.com

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