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Colorado could benefit financially if 51st State Initiative succeeds

7:43 PM, Oct 6, 2013   |    comments
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KUSA - People in parts of rural Colorado are so fed up with state government they are threatening to secede. But, breaking away could cost the counties millions of dollars in lost state funding.

Eleven counties have put a "51st State" initiative on the November 5th ballot. Those counties are mostly on the eastern plains: Weld, Logan, Sedgwick, Phillips, Washington, Kit Carson, Yuma, Cheyenne, Lincoln and Elbert. Moffat County in northwestern Colorado is also putting the issue to a vote.

The secession movement began with "an outcry from citizens primarily after the gun control situation," according to Jeffrey Hare, who is leading the 51st State Initiative organization. Other secessionists take issue with laws and policies regarding civil unions, executions and renewable energy. Some believe there is a lack of representation for rural areas in the Democrat-controlled State Assembly and the Governor's Office.

Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway, who is a leading proponent of creating a new state, said "John Hickenlooper is a good guy, but he's the ultimate urbanite. He doesn't really understand, I think, rural Coloradoan concerns and their way of life."

"We don't have enough votes to protect our livelihood, as far as water, oil, land, hunting," said Weld County resident Kerry Cooper.

However, if certain rural counties break away, they may lose out on millions of dollars in shared state funding.

The I-News Network, an independent, nonprofit journalism center, calculated the revenue coming into the state coffers versus the state services and funding returning to the 11 counties. I-News concentrated on major budget categories like income tax and sales tax, school funding, and Medicaid.

"So we did the math and extended that out and found a gap of between $60 million and $120 million for the 2011-2012 year," said reporter-analyst Burt Hubbard.

If you break the figures down by population, each person in those counties gets between $180 and $360 more back in state services than he or she paid for.

Go to the I-News website to see their detailed report on the financial impact of creating a 51st state.

Proponents of the 51st State Initiative take issue with the I-News calculation. They say it underestimates the revenue from oil and gas production, especially on Colorado State Trust Land.

"Clearly we believe that we put more money in the state coffers than we take out," Hare said.

So should the rest of Colorado work to mend fences with the secessionists? Or is it good riddance?

University of Northern Colorado professor emeritus Steve Mazurana has been watching the 51st State Initiative develop. He said, "There is some talk in the state among some people: 'Yeah. Let them go! And let them pay for all the institutions: the colleges and the prisons and everything the state has paid for.' But, I don't think it is the majority sentiment in the state."

Governor John Hickenlooper responded to the secessionist movement in a statement to 9Wants to Know.

"Rural communities are hurting, but it's not because of background checks on guns sales, civil unions for gay people or expanded renewable energy," he said. "In fact, these are popular proposals across communities large and small. The same is true of our efforts to protect water for agricultural uses, expand broadband into rural areas, and promote tourism and economic diversity across the state."

"There may be a political agenda behind secession I don't get," Hickenlooper added. "Because when I think of Colorado it means all of our diverse communities and people. I can't imagine Colorado being Colorado without the eastern plains. If this talk of a 51st state is about politics designed to divide us, it is destructive. But if it is about sending a message, then I see our responsibility to lean in and do a better job of listening."

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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