While Democrats on the Colorado Senate's State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee want to find solutions for funding the state's schools, they aren't willing to touch lottery funds to do it.
The Senate committee voted along party lines Monday to reject Senate Concurrent Resolution 1, offered by Republican Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling.
Currently, under the state constitution, up to 50 percent of Colorado Lottery proceeds go to GOCO to support outdoor recreation, wildlife and open space programs. Another 40 percent goes into the state's Conservation Trust Fund, and up to 10 percent goes directly to fund Colorado state parks. Any surplus money goes to the state school construction fund.
Under the resolution, which was intended to go to the 2020 ballot, any funds available after Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) pays its required bonds could be transferred to the state education fund.
Sonnenberg emphasized that the transfer is not mandatory, and that the resolution was intended to add "another tool to the toolbox" for funding public education.
While GOCO did not take a position on the measure, according to Executive Director Chris Castilian, plenty of GOCO supporters were on hand to defend the program, one that was re-authorized last year in legislation Sonnenberg sponsored.
Alex Boian of the Outdoor Industry Association, based on Boulder, said his organization recognizes GOCO's history of success, adding that its funding model "is a shining example to the rest of the nation."
Outdoor recreation is a priority, Boian told the committee, noting that 83 percent of Coloradans believe state funds should be used to protect the outdoors.
"This tremendous record of success must be continued," Boian said, especially in light of less support from the federal government that has forced states to take on a greater role in protecting their outdoors.
The fiscal analysis for SCR1 showed about $33 million would be available in 2020-21 to transfer to the state education fund and would leap to $135 million in the following year.
"That will not significantly help education funding," said Andy McRoberts, director of Greeley's Culture, Parks and Recreation Department. "The current model of funding [for GOCO] should remain as it is."
This wouldn't strip outdoors recreation funding, Sonnenberg insisted. "It just allows voters to add education to the list of things that we can spend GOCO money on," if the legislature chooses to tap into it.
Sonnenberg added that he believes GOCO is an important function, but that education funding is an issue that must be addressed.
"I want to continue to make [education] a priority and give us options, heaven forbid things turn south in our economy," he said.
Sonnenberg ran a similar measure in 2010 during the peak of the Great Recession.
Sen. Mike Foote, Democrat of Lafayette, said he empathized with the idea of prioritizing education.
"When I first saw the bill, it showed what a dire situation we're in when it comes to education funding," he said -- so dire that the state would consider taking GOCO money for it.
If voters were to approve this, however, "it would take money away from what people think is sacred and what GOCO provides," he said.
Foote added that the General Assembly has to do better with education funding but that the resolution was not the way to do it.
"I hope voters will take note" of ideas like this and take action accordingly when a proposal for education funding shows up on the ballot, he said.
In a statement after the hearing, Senate Republicans blasted the Democrats as being "all talk and no action" on Republican-sponsored proposals for education funding.