How many firemen, bus drivers and road workers can $10.5 million buy?

The latest expense reports for the two groups battling it out over Amendment 58 — which would do away with a property tax credit for the oil and gas industry in Colorado — show a widening gap in the amount of money raised and spent.

Anti-58 issues committee Coloradans for a Stable Economy has raised $11,166,500 year to date and spent $10,521,214, most of that on a relentless barrage of television ads. Eight oil and gas companies, including Exxon/Mobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron and BP have each contributed at least $1 million each.

The pro-58 issues committee A Smarter Colorado — so named because 60 percent of the estimated additional $321 million a year in oil and gas severance taxes that 58 would generate would go toward higher-education scholarships — has raised $3,692,535 and spent $3,185,943.

Most of that money came from education groups and environmental organizations. Still, the anti-58 committee is outspending and out-advertising the pro-58 committee by a margin of more than 3 to 1.

Some of the Western Slope towns and counties hardest hit by Colorado’s natural-gas boom are split on whether to support Amendment 58, although most officials agree with the concept of evening the playing field for the state’s oil and gas industry, which currently pays the lowest severance tax rate among the nation’s energy-producing states.

Amendment 58, which would only bring Colorado up to the third-lowest severance tax rate, dedicates 15 percent of the additional $321 million, or about $48 million a year, to the communities most impacted by the boom.

What would the $10.5 million spent by big oil and gas buy on the cash-strapped Western Slope these days? The town of Rifle, with a population of 8,000, has an overall budget of $23 million, but a general fund budget of only about $10 million a year.

Rifle currently gets anywhere between $400,000 and $1.6 million a year from severance taxes and federal mineral leasing fees — a fluctuating amount that is difficult to build an annual budget around, its mayor says.

The town of New Castle, with a population of 3,500, has an annual budget of about $3 million, but its mayor says that may have to be slashed in half because of the current economic downturn.

Glenwood Springs, a town of 8,000 on the eastern edge of the gas boom, has a tourism-based annual budget of $82.7 million for 2009-2010, but must dramatically slash some services to make up for anticipated shortfalls for mass transportation and fire protection.

is an award-winning reporter who has covered energy, environmental and political issues for years. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Denver Post. He's founder of Real Vail and Real Aspen.

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