Robbed by the pandemic, Colorado returns $5 million to OHV fund
By Kali Kotoski
The governor of Colorado has signed a bill to return $5 million to the State Parks’ Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Fund after fears that the state’s revenue would take a drastic hit by the COVID-19 pandemic were overblown.
The bill represents a significant win for the OHV programs in the state at a time when outdoor recreation activities in the backcountry have surged to unprecedented levels, highlighting the dire need to have adequate funds to manage the strain on natural resources, educate users, maintain trails and preserve riders’ rights.
The $5 million was originally swept into Colorado’s General Fund during the final days of the 2020 legislative session, when the state was desperately trying to shore up its coffers ahead of the anticipated pandemic squeeze. The last-minute sweep blindsided stakeholders without time to mount objections.
While sweeping money from cash funds deemed not immediately essential is a common practice when states are faced with budget uncertainty, a repayment of funds is virtually unheard of, according to Jerry Abboud, AMA Board Member and President of the Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition.
“In my 35 years of working on off-highway issues,” Abboud said, “a repayment of funds has only happened a few times at most. It is a lesson for those working on issues out there, that once the money has been swept don’t just lay down and think it is over.”
Senate Bill 225 was championed by Senator Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale) who wrangled support within the Joint Budget Committee, eventually earning broad bipartisan support.
“I’m philosophically opposed to using cash funds to balance the state’s budget,” said Rankin. “However, responding to the COVID pandemic required budget cuts no one wanted to make. When the time came to look at undoing some of the cuts we had to make last year, repaying the OHV fund became a priority of mine. I felt it was one of the more egregious cash fund sweeps we had to make. And given the fact that we have a lot of backcountry to repair due to overuse and historic wildfires, I wanted to pay back this fund in particular.”
House Rep. Kim Ransom (R-Acres Green) also led the charge to repay the funds. The Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition (COHVCO) and the Powersports Dealers Association of Colorado led the lobbying push while the non-lobbying Trails Preservation Alliance continued to educate the public on how they can protect their rights.
“It’s not often that cash funds get repaid,” said Landon Gates, lobbyist for the Powersports Dealers Association of Colorado. “We were fortunate enough to have Senator Rankin do much of the heavy lifting behind the scenes, and working together we were able to use PDAC’s membership to help educate the other members of the Joint Budget Committee on the serious need for backcountry trail repair.”
COHVCO Chairman Matt Hiller said that the advocacy work by lobbyists representing off-highway issues cannot be understated, as it is crucial in accessing and safeguarding funds.
“Without a strong presence at the Capitol by COHVCO lobbyists saving our sport would be impossible,” Hiller said.
Rob Dingman, President and CEO of the AMA, explained that, in general, the sweeping of motorcycle and trail-preservation funds leads to a scenario where a user fee paid by riders through licensing, permits, registration and fuel fees, becomes a user tax when the funds are swept away to support unrelated programs.
“It is often a hard-fought battle to get the funds allocated,” Dingman said, “but when they are swept and not repaid, the fight to get more funding starts again from square one. The repayment of the Colorado OHV Fund shows these user fees will be spent for their intended purpose.”
Abboud said that with the repayment of the $5 million, stakeholders will now start working with the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife on a strategic and impactful two- to three-year spend-down plan. Additionally, Abboud said capturing funds as soon as possible is a priority as federal government agencies and Congress are pushing for the private sector to take on more of the funding burden.
“As federal agencies are signaling that conservation efforts need to shift from the public sector to private stewardship,” Abboud added, “it is important that we have these public funds now to prepare for increased strain in the future, because private-sector stewardship will not be enough.”
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