Guest Columns

SMITH: HE WAS A FEISTY LEGISLATOR

Jack McCroskey was a true fighter and deeply committed to his causes

The Colorado Statesman

I was saddened to read of Jack McCroskey’s death because he was a fighter, deeply committed to his causes. I knew him during the first four legislative sessions he served (1975 to 1978) when two issues were key. The first was a strong severance tax that would bring us in line with other mineral producing states like Wyoming and Montana. The second was Jack’s goal of doing away with the sales tax on food. He quickly developed the slogan, “Tax minerals, not milk” and posed for my camera in one of his odd looking jackets.

Dealing with him regarding the realities of a severance tax proved much tougher than just taking the photo. In the summer of 1976, Senator Tillie Bishop from Grand Junction and I were appointed to co-chair the Interim Committee on Mineral Taxation and told to come up with a severance tax bill. We democrats had a majority in the House (a fleeting one, it would turn out) so we had some leverage. Jack wasn’t on the committee but he kept a close eye on us to be sure we didn’t sell out to industry.

One issue was the tax on metals. For some reason, there was a belief that the metal mines were being favored. So our committee went down to Ouray and visited the Idarado mine which, it turned out, was the only functioning metal mine in the state at that time. It immediately became obvious that the mine was on the edge financially and that it would be disastrous to impose any additional taxes. But how were we going to explain that to Jack and his ultra-liberal Denver colleagues?

State Rep. Jack McCroskey posed for this photo by fellow Rep. Morgan Smith in an effort to “tax minerals, not milk.”

The answer was twofold. First we drafted a tax level that was higher than anything in the country. Then we said that the tax would only go into effect if the mine in question reached a certain production level. The production level we set was at least double the highest level of production the Idarado mine had ever achieved so there was no chance that it would ever be taxed.

Jack read the first part of our proposal and was pleased that we had adhered to his slogan, “Tax minerals, not milk.” Fortunately for us he didn’t notice the exemption.

We were pleased to have avoided Jack’s wrath but this issue soon fizzled out. We lost our majority in the 1976 elections and, therefore, our leverage over the severance tax issue. And despite our efforts to protect the Idarado Mine, it closed anyway.

Columnist Morgan Smith is a former state representative and also served as Commissioner of Agriculture. He can be reached at Morgan-smith@comcast.net.