Sometime this spring, the Colorado General Assembly will vote to reauthorize the Colorado Lottery so that it will not sunset in 2024. That effort made progress Jan. 25 as the state Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources & Energy Committee unanimously voted Senate Bill 66 out of committee.
Throughout most of the state, that’s not a controversial issue because lottery revenue has funded thousands of worthwhile projects. The Cortez City Council passed a resolution late last year supporting reauthorization of the Lottery Division.
According to a Dec. 15, 2017, story by Gail Binkly on KSJD, Montezuma County’s three commissioners feel differently. They don’t like the way the money is allocated.
The lottery was established by voters in a 1980 amendment to the state constitution; in 1992 voters authorized the current funding formula. The Conservation Trust Fund and Colorado Parks and Wildlife are funded first, at 40 percent and 10 percent, respectively. Up to 50 percent of the remaining proceeds – an inflation-adjusted limit that is approximately $65 million today – go to Great Outdoors Colorado. Since 1995, GOCO grants have provided $11.6 million for Montezuma County projects. Most years, the monetary cap is exceeded and the remaining funds go to the Building Excellent Schools Today program, which has provided millions of dollars for local schools statewide.
The commissioners are not pleased with Parks and Wildlife because that agency required that Phil’s World biking trails be routed around a golden eagle nest. They also don’t particularly like the funding of conservation easements, which can reduce the taxable value of property. Starting in 2005, GOCO expenditures shifted noticeably toward open space. In a county where more than two-thirds of the land is in federal or tribal ownership, and county revenue relies heavily on Kinder Morgan, every dollar counts. The county had to make significant cuts to its budget this year.
An additional issue, not specific to Montezuma County, is that the lottery hasn’t had a performance audit for five years; that is due this year.
On the flip side, hunting and fishing are economic forces in Montezuma County, and the landscape is a big attraction to visitors, businesses looking to relocate and new residents. Conservation easements, sometimes negotiated to retain one or more building envelopes and the value of the development potential, keep open space from turning into subdivisions and help agricultural families stay on their land.
GOCO has helped pay for planning activities, trails, recreational facilities, park and playground improvements and school gardens. It has made Montezuma County a better place to live. That happens by allocating lottery revenue, which is a voluntary alternative to tax funding. Nobody is forced to buy a lottery ticket.
That is not a satisfactory response to Coloradans who believe gaming is morally wrong, and it’s not likely to be satisfactory to anyone who doesn’t like the way the money is spent, but they need to take that up with the state’s voters.
Legislators should pass SB 66. The lottery can be made better, but it’s already a very good program that has brought money and improvements into Montezuma County.