The Post ed­i­to­rial: Au­dit of Great Out­doors Colorado is good news

The Denver Post - - NEWS -

Along-awaited au­dit of Great Out­doors Colorado is out and, as it turns out, there was no rea­son for of­fi­cials to re­sist, as its find­ings were mostly pos­i­tive.

Last year we were among those call­ing for an au­dit in the face of re­sis­tance from the heads of Great Out­doors Colorado, com­monly known as GOCO. It seemed sus­pi­cious enough that we are re­lieved the au­dit found min­i­mal quib­bles with how the state agency is run.

GOCO is tasked in the Colorado Con­sti­tu­tion with ad­min­is­ter­ing mil­lions of dol­lars in lot­tery pro­ceeds ev­ery year for the ben­e­fit of Colorado parks, open spa­ces and wildlife. The en­tity is out­side tra­di­tional state gov­er­nance, and last week the state au­di­tor re­leased the first per­for­mance au­dit of the pro­gram.

The most sig­nif­i­cant find­ing of fault was in a ran­dom sam­ple of 87 of the 4,900 grants GOCO has is­sued over 22 years. That study showed GOCO had “some prob­lems … cat­e­go­riz­ing some grants.” In other words the grants were all awarded to projects that com­plied with GOCO’s mis­sion, but were “mis­cater­go­rized” for the pur­pose of en­sur­ing GOCO pro­vides equal re­sources to its four main mis­sions: wildlife, out­door recre­ation, lo­cal gov­ern­ment and open space.

GOCO should tighten the way it la­bels the grants, pay­ing par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion to wildlife fund­ing, which was in­tended to go through Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

But on the whole, we are glad no sub­stan­tial mis­spending was found with the pro­gram.

In­vest­ing in our open spa­ces, our parks and our wildlife is crit­i­cal to Colorado, where out­door recre­ation is a sub­stan­tial eco­nomic driver and res­i­dents value the qual­ity of life that comes with ac­cess to the great out­doors. Neg­a­tive au­dits, like one crit­i­cal of the con­ser­va­tion ease­ment tax credit pro­gram ear­lier this year, can have reper­cus­sions on pub­lic trust and re­sult in a re­luc- tance to in­vest fu­ture tax­payer dol­lars in pub­lic lands.

The tax credit pro­gram gives mil­lions in state dol­lars back to tax­pay­ers will­ing to per­ma­nently forgo de­vel­op­ment on their prop­erty. The au­dit found that the state agency ad­min­is­ter­ing the pro­gram award­ing those tax cred­its was un­able to show that the lands pre­served were high-pri­or­ity prop­er­ties.

Help­ing re­store faith in the pro­gram, how­ever, is a re­port is­sued by Colorado State Univer­sity that delved into how the tax credit pro­gram and GOCO grants for land con­ser­va­tion have worked over the years.

Ac­cord­ing to the anal­y­sis done by CSU pro­fes­sors and funded by a gift from Robert L. Tate, “Res­i­dents of Colorado have re­ceived an es­ti­mated $5.5 bil­lion to $13.7 bil­lion of eco­nomic ben­e­fits from land con­served by con­ser­va­tion ease­ments while the state has in­vested roughly $1.1 bil­lion — through ap­prox­i­mately $280 mil­lion from GOCO and $772 mil­lion from the con­ser­va­tion ease­ment tax credit pro­gram on these ef­forts since 1995.”

Crit­i­cally, the study also found that the state was set­ting aside lands con­sid­ered im­por­tant habi­tats, based on anal­y­sis by the West­ern As­so­ci­a­tion of Fish and Wildlife Agen­cies. We’d still like more trans­parency in Colorado’s tax credit pro­grams, but this re­port is a good start.

The moral of the story for our pub­lic lands ad­vo­cates is that trans­parency shouldn’t be re­sisted but em­braced. The more the pub­lic knows about the good work they are do­ing with tax­payer dol­lars, the less likely they are to op­er­ate un­der a cloud of sus­pi­cion.

Pub­lic dol­lars are be­ing ex­pended for the pub­lic good, and the pub­lic should know ex­actly where these lands, trails and other projects are lo­cated and how much money they cost. The mem­bers of The Den­ver Post’s ed­i­to­rial board are Wil­liam Dean Sin­gle­ton, chair­man; Mac Tully, CEO and pub­lisher; Chuck Plun­kett, edi­tor of the ed­i­to­rial pages; Megan Schrader, ed­i­to­rial writer; and Cohen Peart, opin­ion edi­tor.

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