Pitkin County officials asked state legislators on Tuesday to kill a bill that would take lottery funds from conservation grants and put them toward veterans programs.
The county commissioners and open space board unanimously agreed to oppose the effort. They sent a joint letter to the legislature Tuesday afternoon, in advance of a Wednesday morning committee hearing on the bill.
State Sen. Suzanne Williams of Aurora and others want to create a new scratch-off lottery ticket to fund additional aid for Colorado veterans, and change how state lottery funds are distributed.
Much of the lottery cash currently goes to the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) fund.
GOCO grants constitute 1 out of every 8 cents spent by Pitkin County’s property tax-funded county open space fund annually. The December 2010 purchase of what is now Sky Mountain Park from the Droste family, in fact, won the largest GOCO grant in the program’s history: $2.5 million.
Changing the distribution of lottery proceeds would require amending the Colorado Constitution, which requires a statewide vote. Supporters want to place the issue on the statewide November ballot.
“This is a challenging question for all of us, because it’s speaking to the needs of veterans,” said Commissioner Rachel Richards.
Richards in recent years has asked the board to observe a moment of silence at the beginning of its regular meetings, recognizing that the U.S. is at war. She often invokes the hardships war places on military families and veterans.
While Richards said she supports veterans programs — and recognizes their nationwide need for funding — she argued that diverting money from a two-time voter-approved funding source for conservation is not the best way to help them.
“You don’t make other programs successful by making a successful program less successful,” she said.
She noted the state’s abundance of underfunded needs, including schools and infrastructure. Board members expressed concern that legislators could, in the future, move GOCO funds for any number of other seemingly worthy causes.
Commissioners expressed hope for keeping GOCO funding in tact.
“I see this as a slippery slope that you can’t start down,” Richards said.
The letter, to Sen. Gail Schwartz of Snowmass Village and the Colorado legislature, requests the bill be withdrawn from consideration and that current lottery fund distribution be preserved in the future.
“We recognize that our veterans have needs that are not currently being addressed,” the letter states. “Indeed, our state faces a host of public needs that are underfunded ... We should not compromise the conservation programs’ funding by the lottery when larger solutions are needed in all these other areas.”
Open space board member Hawk Greenway added that many national veterans organizations actually use local lands that have benefited from GOCO funding for veterans recreation programs.
The state senate’s Veterans and Military Affairs committee is holding a hearing Wednesday afternoon on the bill, in Denver.