DENVER – Supporters of a state-owned aerial firefighting fleet missed their best chance to find money to buy airplanes Friday,
Senate Bill 245 creates the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps, but it does not include any money to buy airplanes or hire pilots. The House Appropriations Committee advanced the bill Friday morning without adding any of the estimated $17 million cost to buy surplus aerial tankers from the federal government.
As the bill is written now, it would create an aerial firefighting division on paper only and require a report from the Colorado Department of Public Safety about whether it makes sense to spend money on airplanes. The Legislature would get the report next April.
Later in the afternoon, sponsors had to fend off an attempt to scrap the division entirely and instead just do the study.
Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, said the bill’s backers were being too hasty in an effort to tell constituents that they did something about wildfires.
“I think we need to know what we’re buying before we buy it. That’s all I’m saying,” Levy said.
Even if the Legislature did have the money, there might be better ways to spend it, she said.
“My constituents would rather put more money into projects that thin the forests,” Levy said.
But backers argued against Levy, and she stepped away from her plan.
Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said he was “ashamed” of the effort to get rid of the aerial firefighting division, even if there’s no money to pay for it.
“The problem is we don’t plan to fail, we fail to plan,” Coram said.
Rep. Mike McLachlan, D-Durango, also supported the bill.
“We need to have every resource available, and this bill will serve that purpose,” he said.
Friday’s House vote sets up the bill for passage Monday or Tuesday, although lawmakers are unlikely to find money to fund it this year.