Gov. Ritter lists state fire sale items

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Want to buy a Colorado interstate highway tunnel or a college football skybox with club seating?

Or how about the National Guard Armory in Watkins, only $11 million, or your own planetarium at Colorado State University, a bargain at $5.6 million?

These are just a few of the $9.5 billion in assets the state of Colorado has listed for possible sale in the event of a statewide emergency, like the Hayman fire in 2002 that destroyed 600 buildings, including 133 homes, as it burned trees and vegetation on about 215 square miles in the Colorado Rockies.

The state spent $15 million from the State Emergency Reserve to fight it.

The list of assets was part of a deal struck by Gov. Bill Ritter to meet a requirement that the state set aside $268 million to cover emergencies under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which limits state spending and the Legislature’s ability to raise taxes without a vote. Budget shortfalls are not considered an emergency.

Ritter negotiated a deal with budgetmakers last year that allows him to list $161 million in equity assets, including state buildings and facilities, to meet the requirement.

Rep. Kent Lambert, a Republican from Colorado Springs and a member of the Joint Budget Committee that sets state spending priorities, said Ritter is using the assets to evade TABOR requirements because there is no way to quickly sell them off to cover an emergency.

“Why would anyone buy it? This clearly doesn’t meet the intent of the law,” Lambert said.

Todd Saliman, Ritter’s budget director, told the Joint Budget Committee that Ritter would choose buildings and other assets from the list to cover an emergency, if necessary. He also defended the practice, saying it’s allowed by state law.

“The state has never had to go that deep into the TABOR reserve. It’s highly unlikely,” Saliman said.

Rep. Jack Pommer, a Democrat from Boulder and a JBC member, said the state has tapped into the TABOR reserve on numerous occasions, including $15 million to fight the Hayman fire in 2002 and to fund rescues in snowstorms.

Pommer said the practice listing state buildings as assets began under GOP Gov. Bill Owens in 2003. He said Owens had a sense of humor, listing the state building housing the budget committee as one of the first buildings to be sold.

Pommer said the $107 million in cash is more than enough to cover most emergencies. He said anything bigger than that would require the Legislature be called back into emergency session instead of selling off assets.

“If we hit $100 million, we’d have bigger problems than that,” Pommer said.

- Associated Press