Call a special session | GJSentinel.com
Call a special session
One of the bigger disappointments of the current legislative session, which ends today, is that Senate Republicans dodged taking any action on the contentious hospital provider fee.
The House passed two bills, 1420 and 1450, which would have converted the fee to an enterprise, thereby freeing up space under the revenue cap set by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. Getting the fee out from under TABOR would have allowed $750 million to be directed toward transportation and education and helped backfill some of the $362 million in severance taxes that lawmakers have used to cover spending gaps since 2006.
Senate leaders delayed introducing the bills until Tuesday, thus assuring they wouldn’t get the required number of readings needed to pass before the sessions ends.
Several Republicans broke ranks to support the House measures, so it would have been instructive to hear arguments in the Senate. In an election year, voters deserve to understand the rationale behind fiscal policy positions and who’s taking them.
Early on, some Republicans argued that converting the fee eliminated refunds to taxpayers. But budget negotiations removed that scenario from the equation. In a parallel universe, funding for roads and schools without a tax increase sounds like something the GOP would get behind.
“I don’t quite understand a lot of my fellow Republicans saying, ‘Oh, we have to preserve TABOR,’” John Suthers told The Colorado Independent last week. “The easiest way to preserve TABOR, and not increase taxes, is to remove the provider fee from the calculation. But obviously there’s a group in the Senate that feels differently.”
In 2009, Suthers, who was then Colorado’s Republican attorney general, urged lawmakers to make the new fee an enterprise. The current attorney general, Republican Cynthia Coffman, says converting it now is perfectly legal.
Had the Senate chosen to debate the matter and take a floor vote, it might have helped deflate ballot initiatives aimed at untangling Colorado’s constitutional amendments that dictate how the state can spend its money.
It may have also helped facilitate the issuance of transportation bonds. Gov. John Hickenlooper has said he’s OK with the GOP’s bonding plan, provided the state has new sources of revenue. Converting the hospital fee would have done that.
Instead, fealty to TABOR among the GOP’s most zealous fiscal conservatives leaves Colorado with no plan for roads, school funding challenges, potential ballot questions to change constitutional provisions, no severance-tax fix and fewer funds for expanded Medicaid services in the state.
As a rural, energy-impacted community with high “cost-shift” related to heath care, Mesa County is more affected by the Senate’s inaction than most.
Shedding light on this complex issue would help ordinary Coloradans understand what’s at stake. For that reason, we hope Hickenlooper will consider calling a special session to make the hopsital provider fee the Legislature’s only piece of business. It’s too important to die without comment.