Wednesday, June 4, 2008


GRAND JUNCTION ― Gov. Bill Ritter signed groundbreaking legislation today that creates sustainable financial support for construction projects at state colleges and universities using proceeds from oil-and-gas development on federal lands.
Joined by state Rep. Bernie Buescher at a signing ceremony at Mesa State College, Gov. Ritter also signed three other bills that will directly benefit the Western Slope.
"The Western Slope is booming, and we must support that growth through smart investments," Gov. Ritter said. "The bills I'm signing today invest in higher education, environmental protection, and in one of the region's fastest-growing economic sectors – the winemaking industry. They represent a lot of hard work and bipartisan ingenuity."
SB 218 (Schwartz & Penry/Buescher & Balmer) alters the way Federal Mineral Lease revenues and bonus payments are allocated. It creates two new funds to support higher education, one for construction and another for maintenance. Existing FML beneficiaries – K-12 education, local communities most impacted by oil-and-gas drilling and the Colorado Water Conservation Board – also will see hundreds of millions of dollars under the legislation.
The state's FML forecast is "growing at a robust rate," Rep. Buescher said. "It's great news. This will make a real dent in the backlog of capital development projects. But this is only a start. I am committed to doing more for all Colorado children who deserve a growing economy, a challenging K-12 education, and a 21st century college education."
"We are standing on the cusp of an enormous opportunity to set aside money from our state's energy boom and create lasting funds to address Colorado's future needs in the event of an economic downturn," Sen. Schwartz said. "We have worked hard on this bill to ensure that the outcomes will be beneficial to all stakeholders."
"By creating a permanent fund for higher education and impacted communities, we are guaranteeing funding for these critical priorities for many years into the future," Rep. Balmer said.
A companion measure to SB 218 (SB 233) allows the state to issue Certificates of Participation backed by the new revenue streams created under SB 218. Those certificates will immediately accelerate funding for 12 to 17 higher-ed construction projects around Colorado, including providing nearly $15 million to expand and renovate Wubben Hall at Mesa State. Gov. Ritter signed that bill into law last month.
Also signed at Mesa State today:
SB 245 (Windels/Buescher) gives the state treasurer greater authority to safeguard the financial health of colleges and universities. It allows higher-education institutions to use the state's strong credit rating to obtain lower interest rates when borrowing money for construction projects.
"We are doing everything we can to make college more affordable," said State Treasurer Cary Kennedy, who helped develop the plan. "By giving higher-ed institutions the opportunity to benefit from the state's credit rating, this program will save tens of millions of dollars in financing costs, which in turn keeps costs down for students."
House Bill 1359 (Buescher/Penry) will allow small or start-up wineries to share winemaking facilities and equipment. It will let small winemakers pool their resources and save money to help them grow.
HB 1414 (Buescher/Penry) authorizes the state to develop rules concerning waste pits and other chemical waste facilities at oil-and-gas sites. The legislation calls for waste pits to be at least a half-mile from homes and requires double-layered synthetic liners to keep chemical waste from leaking into ground-water supplies. Industry and conservationists came together to support the bill, which won overwhelming bipartisan support in the legislature.