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Hickenlooper proposes new fracking study

Schools, wildfire prevention in plans for $50M of extra tax money

DENVER – Colorado should use unanticipated tax money to study the effects of gas and oil drilling on air quality, as well as devote more money to public schools and wildfire prevention, Gov. John Hickenlooper told lawmakers Friday.

The governor’s late-afternoon request outlined his vision for spending about $50 million in additional tax collections that his office didn’t anticipate when it made its formal request to legislative budget-writers in November.

Hickenlooper’s $50 million request includes about $1 million to study the drilling practice known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The Democratic governor insists the procedure is safe, but skeptics remain.

Hickenlooper told lawmakers Friday that they should spend about $11 million for the state health department to study the effects of gas and oil extraction on environmental air quality. Hickenlooper also proposed $1.3 million for an additional fracking study along the northern Front Range with Colorado State University.

The governor’s requests also included about $13 million more for K-12 schools, and about $10 million for improved wildfire prevention.

The Legislature makes the final call on budgeting, but the governor’s suggestions are taken seriously because he will ultimately sign or veto the budget. The general fund that lawmakers control is expected to grow to $8.1 billion next year, up from about $7.6 billion last year.

The 2013-14 budget will likely be the first in years with no major cuts and more money for schools and colleges.

Hickenlooper’s other requests Friday included:

$22 million to improve Colorado troubled child-welfare system.

Almost $1.7 million in various technology upgrades to the state’s data network and billing procedures.

$3.7 million to upgrade a state radio system that allows two-way communication for fire departments, police and other government services.

$2 million for improvements to the Capitol and surrounding buildings.