DENVER – Senators killed the only remaining wildfire-prevention bill of the year Friday afternoon, when the sponsor gave up on finding enough votes to pass it.
House Bill 1009 would have increased the size of a tax credit forest homeowners can claim for clearing dangerous brush and trees from their land.
Less than two weeks ago, the Senate voted unanimously to spend nearly $20 million to buy and rent airplanes and helicopters to fight fires that have already broken out. By comparison, the estimated price tag for the tax credit was $340,000 next year.
Some senators think that fire defense is a personal responsibility and shouldn’t be funded through a tax credit, said the sponsor, Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, D-Black Hawk. But Nicholson said taxpayers end up paying for firefighting and recovery costs.
“We spent $48 million last year on fire suppression. (A small) incentive seems like a good idea to me,” Nicholson said Tuesday, when his bill first ran into trouble in the Senate.
An initial vote Tuesday showed the bill was poised to fail 17-18, with two Democrats and 16 Republicans voting against it.
Earlier this year, the Senate killed a bill to make clear that county officials can prohibit agricultural burning on days when the fire danger is high.
The tax credit was the only surviving idea from a wildfire task force Gov. John Hickenlooper appointed last year. The group made several recommendations that proved too controversial for legislators to touch, including a statewide building code and a fee for homeowners in fire-prone areas to fund forest-health projects.
Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, said she had considered supporting the tax credit, but people at a town meeting in Southwest Colorado convinced her to vote against it.
“I was kind of surprised,” Roberts said of the meeting with constituents. “There was similar resistance to what my caucus had – you shouldn’t be paying people to take care of their property.”
She pointed out that in previous years, the Legislature has set aside money for grants to help neighborhoods and towns complete fire safety projects, and that money is still available.
Roberts said she’s satisfied with the Legislature’s work on wildfire matters this year. In addition to paying for aerial firefighting, the Legislature has tightened controls over prescribed burns, set aside money for ground-based firefighting, took steps to fix a broken emergency radio system and created an online wildfire information center – a bill Roberts sponsored.
“I’m very pleased at the progress we’ve made. I honestly go home and sleep better just because I know we’re getting the resources together,” Roberts said.