January Greetings to Everyone in Eagle County and Routt County!
The second regular session of the 70th Colorado General Assembly was gaveled to order by Speaker of the House Dickey Lee Hullinghorst last Wednesday, January 13.
As I listened to a beautiful rendition of the Star Spangled banner and then said the Pledge of Allegiance that day, I thought of Barney Ford,
whose image is in stained
glass above the Speaker's dais. He was an escaped slave who fled to Colorado for freedom, a new life, and opportunity. Barney Ford worked hard to become a prosperous real estate developer in Denver in the 1870's and 1880's. To me he symbolizes the American Dream and our Colorado Way of Life: the promise of equal opportunity, justice for all, rewards for hard work and playing by a fair set of rules applied to all, amidst the splendor of our mountains, rivers and plains.
Martin Luther King often used the metaphor of climbing a mountain to describe the non violent struggle for equality, justice, and freedom. Being united and working together was another theme that runs throughout his words and actions.
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly". (Dr. Martin Luther King, 1963, Letter from a Birmingham Jail.)
Inspired by Barney Ford and Dr. King, I fervently hope that we will work together, across the partisan divide and the Continental Divide, to help build a better future for ALL! We need to remember that we are ALL Americans, we are ALL Coloradans. What unites us is so much more important than what divides us.
Quick Summary of my Bills to date
As I have previously done, I will be working across the aisle on legislation. Here is a short and very partial summary of what I am working on. House bills are designated HB and Senate bills are designated SB.
I will be carrying Senate bills by Senator Donovan, and I will have additional House Bills. Future newsletters will detail these.
The Budget Crisis and the Hospital Provider Fee: a Short term Solution to a Structural Problem
As I noted to you in December, the budget will be very difficult to balance this year, given a shortfall in the December 2015 forecast and the fact that we are over the TABOR cap and must refund almost $300 million to taxpayers. This refund will be about $17 on average to each taxpayer.
Because of the requirement to make refunds, the budget delivered by the Governor to the Joint Budget Committee (JBC) in November contains significant cuts to higher education, Medicaid reimbursement to health care providers, Mental health care, k-12 public education, and other areas. As Representative Millie Hamner(D-Dillon), Chair of the JBC put it in late December: "There are plenty of rocks and hard places that we're forced to choose between because of conflicting mandates in our constitution.”
The Joint Budget Committee will continue to hear from state agencies and departments, then the JBC will use all the information they have to create a budget from the Governor's November budget proposal. After the JBC has gotten the March forecast, they will then present the House and Senate with a budget proposal. We will all work together to make it balance, as we are required to do. Balancing will be very difficult because we will need to make major cuts.
But there is a potential short term solution that would enable us to balance the budget AND fund transportation, education, fuller reimbursement for primary health care providers, and other needed areas: make the 2009 hospital provider fee an enterprise fund, as allowed under TABOR. This proposal is not an end run around TABOR. It is not "Democrats want to raise taxes", as some opening day speeches in the Senate and House claimed.
Here's how it would work. Under the 1992 amendment to our State Constitution known as TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights), the state is required to refund taxes when actual revenues to the State exceed an amount determined by formula in our Constitution. That formula uses population growth and various economic indices to restrain the growth of state revenue. Due to growth in the hospital provider fee, which is actually not state revenue but has been misclassified as revenue since 2009, we went over the cap. The fee is paid by hospitals at their request to help cover their costs of and losses from treating indigent patients. The fees are passed through the State to the Federal Government who then matches them at 100 percent and returns them and the match money to the hospitals.
The State of Colorado does not, and cannot by, law use these fees or the match as revenue for state programs. 100% of these monies must go to the hospitals that paid the fee. By any definition of "state revenue" the current hospital provider fee is NOT State revenue. Yet, under current statute these fees are counted as revenue. This fee and its use fit squarely in the Colorado Constitutional definition of an "enterprise fund" within the TABOR Amendment, but are not now classified as such in statute. If the fee were correctly classified as an enterprise fund, the monies that go to the hospitals would not count as revenue for TABOR calculations.
This misclassification has put us over the TABOR threshold, so we must refund $289 million to taxpayers. That turns out to be an average of $17 per taxpayer. As JBC Chair Representative Millie Hamner (D-Dillon) put it: “At a time when we should be investing in our kids’ education, our rural and Western Slope hospitals and our roads, we’re making cuts and issuing refunds instead...That makes no sense.”
If we cannot pass the HPF bill, we will have to make large cuts everywhere, but particularly in k-12, higher education, Medicaid reimbursements for primary health care providers, mental health, and so on. If we can pass it, that will trigger SB228 which will provide $100 million for transportation. Virtually all business groups, K-12 and higher education groups, newspaper editorials, health care organizations, and Club20 strongly support it.
I hope we can work across the aisle to find solutions.
Please see the panel on your right for dates for upcoming town halls in HD26.
Paid for by Citizens to Elect Diane Mitsch Bush for Colorado HD 26 • Tessa Kirchner, Treasurer • ©2012-2017 Diane For Colorado