Referendum may authorize land purchases

Initiative would allow GOCo to borrow up to $115 million for public land purchases throughout Colorado

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By RYAN SHERIDAN
Daily Press writer
Since 1992, Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCo) has distributed grants to communities funded by money generated from the Colorado state lottery. GOCo funds projects that support with wildlife, outdoor recreation, open spaces, and related local government projects. GOCo receives 50 percent of the Colorado's net lottery proceeds, and through June of this year, GOCo had awarded $265.9 million in grants for 1,678 projects across the state.
Referendum A, which will be listed on the Nov. 6 statewide election ballot, seeks to authorize the 15-member GOCo board to borrow up to $115 million by issuing bonds to help local governments, state agencies and non-profit land conservation organizations buy land for open space, parks and wildlife habitat projects.
The total cost of the bonds, including interest, can not exceed $180 million.
"A key to this issue is that GOCo won't issue a bond except on demand," Kathie Finger, campaign coordinator for Open Space for Colorado, said. "This will be a tool available to help communities fund projects, but it might not always be needed. As it is now, for instance, if a community wanted to buy some commercial property, and the money isn't available, the project can't be funded GOCo operates only on a cash basis. This referendum would authorize GOCo to borrow the needed money by issuing bonds."
The proposal would have no effect on taxes or the tax rebate because the bonds would be issued against lottery proceeds only, Finger said.
Douglas Bruce, a resident of Colorado Springs, disagrees. Bruce points out that in these times of recession, war, and a weakened stock market, spending up to $180 million "to buy dirt is a luxury and whim we cannot afford."
Bruce calls the initiative bad economics because higher debt payments become relatively more painful when the total revenue pie is shrinking, as is happening now, he said.
"Referendum A is a devious device to force the legislature to renew the wasteful GOCo bureaucracy, since termination would cause a default in loan payments and force a bailout by state taxpayers," Bruce said.
This concern is unfounded, Finger said, because the bond houses won't issue bonds that would go past the expiration of the lottery. The bonds would have to be repaid in at least 20 years, but that doesn't mean the bonds have to be for 20 years, she said.
"I've talked to the bond houses, and they wouldn't issue bonds past 2009," Finger said.

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