Poll: Colo. voters apt to zap tax break | VailDaily.com

Poll: Colo. voters apt to zap tax break

Kevin Flynn
Rocky Mountain News
Vail, CO Colorado

Colorado voters are favoring elimination of a tax break for in-state oil and gas producers, according to a new poll a month away from Election Day.

The poll by Ciruli Associates showed 51 percent of surveyed voters saying they will vote for Amendment 58, and 25 percent against it. Nineteen percent were undecided and the remainder said they intended not to vote on the measure.

It is one of four amendments on the Nov. 4 ballot polling above 50 percent in Ciruli’s poll. One of them, however, was pulled off the ballot by its sponsors this week.

Ciruli conducted the poll Sept. 19-23 as part of the third annual citizens survey by the Economic Development Council of Colorado. Thirteen of the 18 statewide ballot issues the group considered to be related to economic development issues were included in the poll.

Also polling above 50 percent were:

* Amendment 52, which earmarks part of the growth in the existing severance tax to highway projects, with 64 percent in favor and 12 percent opposed.

* Amendment 53, which would have made business executives criminally liable for failure to perform duties as required by law. Labor backers of the measure pulled it and three other initiatives off the ballot this week in a deal with business leaders. Ciruli’s poll had it ahead with 58 percent in favor and 18 percent opposed.

* Amendment 50, which allows for expanded casino gaming by adding hours, games and higher betting limits, with 55 percent in favor and 28 percent opposed.

Floyd Ciruli cautioned that being above 50 percent with many undecided voters remaining isn’t a lock.

“A quarter of the voters aren’t on board yet and there’s still a month to go,” Ciruli said.

One of the most contested initiatives on this year’s jammed ballot, Amendment 58 would eliminate a tax credit that oil and gas producers get against their state severance taxes to offset what they pay in property taxes to local governments.

Severance taxes are paid on minerals removed, or “severed,” from the ground.

The state estimates that eliminating that tax credit would result in up to $321 million more revenue per year, to be used for college scholarships, wildlife habitat, renewable energy, transportation and water treatment projects.

The energy industry is pumping big bucks – $10 million so far – into the campaign to defeat Amendment 58. Backers, supported by Gov. Bill Ritter, have raised about $3 million.

A Smarter Colorado, the group backing the amendment, greeted the poll as evidence voters can cut through the conflicting messages of the campaigns.

“From the beginning, people understood that it doesn’t make sense to give a huge subsidy to the oil and gas industry,” said spokesman George Merritt. “You and I don’t get to credit our property taxes against our income taxes, so it’s heartening to see that voters get that and understand it doesn’t make any sense to let oil companies do that.”

But Dan Hopkins, spokesman for the campaign against 58, Coloradans for a Stable Economy, said his internal polling has consistently tracked a 10- to 15-point lead for the opposition.

“We’ve been doing tracking polls for the past several months,” Hopkins said. “Ciruli’s numbers are swimming upstream compared to other polling, including our own. We have consistently shown this losing by 10 to 15 points and we believe that’s what’s going to happen.”

Ciruli didn’t poll on amendments that do away with race- and gender-based affirmative action, define a person as existing from the moment of fertilization, and raise the state sales tax to fund programs for developmentally disabled people.

The biggest losing margin in his poll was Referendum L, which would lower the minimum age for people to serve in the state legislature from 25 to 21. Fifty-five percent of voters in the poll opposed that, with 27 percent in favor.

The poll questioned 501 likely voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 points.

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