The House Agriculture, Livestock and Water Committee on Monday unanimously voted to give preliminary approval to measures seeking to pump state stimulus dollars into water projects and agricultural events.
House Bills 21-1260 and 21-1262 are the eight and ninth proposals from the $700 million-plus state stimulus package to advance through an initial committee hearing in the General Assembly. Of those Colorado Recovery Plan bills, only one cleared the appropriations committee in its original chamber. That bill put $30 million into the state Department of Transportation’s Revitalizing Main Streets program and was signed into law last month.
Of the two bills heard by the House ag panel on Monday, HB 1260 from Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver, and Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, seeks to dedicate $20 million to Colorado’s Water Plan. That plan, released in 2015, calls for an estimated $100 million a year, a benchmark Garnett said the state has fallen well short of.
Both he and Catlin said their bill was an effort to accelerate investment in the plan.
“One of the things that, when I first started in the water business, an old boy said to me, he said, ‘Well, you know Catlin, water moves at glacial time and we don't have glacial time,’ ” the Montrose Republican said. “We need to pick the pace up and that's what we're doing here.”
So much so, Garnett said, that the dollar figure could outpace what the Colorado Water Conservation Board is prepared for.
“The bill that's before you is one that will push CWCB more quickly than I think CWCB feels totally comfortable with,” Garnett said. “But that's what we're trying to do when it comes to getting dollars, state stimulus dollars, out into the hands of Coloradans to help put shovels in the ground, to help create these projects, to help create jobs.”
Witnesses ranging from Environmental Defense Fund Action to the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association told the House Ag panel that years of drought and aging water infrastructure meant an influx of state dollars into the plan was badly needed.
“This level of dollars is only a drop in one of those reservoirs, but it's a necessary drop, it's a critical drop and one that will be put to good use” said Terry Fankhauser, CCA’s executive vice president.
Maria Nájera, the government affairs director for Western Resource Advocates, said money pegged to go to the water plan via the legalization and taxation of sports gambling by ballot measure in 2019 simply wasn’t enough to cover the financial demands.
“Just like one wet winter won't solve Colorado's water trouble, Proposition DD money alone is not enough. We need hundreds of millions of dollars to fully implement the state's water plan,” she said. “The $20 million in this bill is a down payment to implement water projects and programs around the state.”
Garnett agreed with that sentiment.
“As we look forward, we will have to have a discussion as a state and probably as a General Assembly about how to get more dedicated revenue towards the water plan to meet that commitment,” he said.
The committee also heard HB 1262 from Reps. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, and Mike Lynch, R-Wellington. That legislation would add $3.5 million into both the National Western Stock Show and the Colorado State Fair, as well as an additional $2 million into other ag-related events that shut down in the wake of COVID-19.
Paul Andrews, president and CEO of the National Western Stock Show, said that sum would be enough to carry the event over until next year after it was forced to cancel in 2021.
Ag Commissioner Kate Greenberg, meanwhile, touted the show as an “international icon” that generates $120 million in economic activity.
“The funding from this bill will not only help the stock show recover, but also sends a clear signal that the stock show belongs here in Denver,” she said before also praising the impact of the State Fair, county fairs and regional ag shows the bill would invest in.
Both bills cleared the committee with unanimous 11-0 support and now heads to the House Appropriations Committee.