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Battle brewing over use of open space funds

9:06 AM, Apr 27, 2010   |    comments
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"Our kids education seems to me to be more important than buying new land and open space when we're in times of fiscal emergency," Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling), who is the author of the plan, said. "It seems to me we've exhausted every other route that we possibly can."

Lawmakers cut more than $250 million in state support to K-12 schools to balance this year's budget. Diverting the GOCO funds would amount to roughly $55 million.

"Does it make up everything? No. Does it help? Yes," Sonnenberg said. "$55 million is a heckuva start."

The fact it is just a start is why some of the state's leading education advocates, including the Colorado Education Association, are opposing the measure. They believe they will only have one chance to impress voters as to the needs of Colorado's education system, from pre-school all the way through college, and don't want to go to them with a plan that won't make a significant difference.

"While I think it's an excellent idea, I don't think it's enough money to really warrant going to the voters and changing the Constitution," Rep. Karen Middleton (D-Aurora), said. "I think we need to take a more comprehensive approach and a bigger request and it may be we ask for lottery proceeds as part of that request, but I think we should do it as more of a whole plan and not a one-off."

Colorado voters amended the state's constitution in 1992 to take 50 percent of all state lottery proceeds and use them to preserve Colorado's outdoor heritage. Nearly $550 million has since been distributed to 2,700 projects statewide that have protected Colorado's wildlife, parks, rivers and open spaces.

House Concurrent Resolution 1007 will be heard by the House Education Committee next week. In order to qualify for the November ballot, it needs the support of 2/3rds of Colorado lawmakers.

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