Mar 30

Business leaders battle Republican lawmaker in hospital-fee bill hearing

Business leaders battle Republican lawmaker in hospital-fee bill hearing

Colorado business leaders charged into the state Capitol Tuesday to advocate for a newly introduced change in the hospital provider fee that they believe will increase funding for transportation and education — and ran right into a key Republican legislator who questioned whether they would be taking revenues illegally from companies and individuals that need them more.

House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst’s long-planned bill to pull some $700 million out from under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) revenue cap and turn it into an enterprise fund received its first hearing in the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday, one day after it was introduced.

Committee Democrats passed it onto the House floor over the objections of Republicans, the first of several steps in what is expected to be a weeks-long fight over one of the most watched measures of this legislative session.

The seven-year-old provider fee charges hospitals for each night a bed is occupied, leverages that money to get an equal amount of federal matching funds and expands the eligibility of childless adults for Medicaid, reducing the burden of uncompensated care on hospitals.

By turning the fee into an enterprise, it frees a lot more room for the state to collect new revenues without reaching its TABOR cap and having to give back any excess money as tax refunds.

 

Continue reading

Mar 30

Bipartisan Hospital Provider Fee Bill Introduced At Colorado Capitol

Bipartisan Hospital Provider Fee Bill Introduced At Colorado Capitol

The Colorado State Capitol.

(Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)

State lawmakers introduced a bill Monday that would eliminate tax refunds and give the state more money to spend.Colorado is collecting so much money that it has to send some of it back to residents, as required by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

But Democrats say there’s a big pot of money in the state budget that shouldn’t count toward the TABOR limit. It’s a fee hospitals pay that the state spends on expanding health coverage for the poor.

The new bill changes how the state accounts for this fee, making it exempt from TABOR. That would effectively allow the state to hold onto hundreds of millions of dollars it would otherwise have to pay out in tax rebates.

A separate measure, which would only apply to next year, directs lawmakers to spend the extra money on transportation, local governments, and schools.

The fee-change bill has bipartisan sponsorship. Sen. Larry Crowder, a Republican, says the change could help rural hospitals in his southeastern district.

However the Republicans who control the state Senate strongly oppose the reclassification, calling it an end-run around TABOR.

House Speaker Dickie Lee Hullinghorst said she tried to work with Senate leaders.

“There didn’t seem to be a way that we could get together,” she said. “And I felt that we had to move forward.”

– See more at: https://www.cpr.org/news/newsbeat/bipartisan-hospital-provider-fee-bill-introduced-colorado-capitol#sthash.0JGvqvqF.dpuf

Mar 30

Speaker: Talks on proposal to eliminate TABOR refunds at a stalemate

Speaker: Talks on proposal to eliminate TABOR refunds at a stalemate

Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst of Boulder was nominated as majority leader during the Colorado House of Representatives Democratic Caucus at the state Capitol in Denver, CO, Thursday November 8, 2012. Democrats took back the majority in the House after Tuesday’s election, and will have a 37-28 majority when the session opens in January. Craig F. Walker, The Denver Post

DENVER – The speaker of the Colorado House said negotiations have reached a “stalemate” on a long-debated and highly anticipated proposal to retain more state revenue through an accounting change that would eliminate TABOR refunds in future years.

The prospects for the bills Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst introduced Monday are poor in the Republican-dominated Senate.

One of the bills reauthorizes a fee charged on hospital stays so that millions of dollars go into an enterprise fund that is exempt from the spending limits in the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. The other bill spends the revenue the state would retain if the first bill passes.

Continue reading

Mar 26

Colorado’s provider ‘fee’: Even the federal government knows its a tax

March 25, 2016 12:22 PM· By Linda Gorman

In 2009, the Democrats controlling Colorado state government wanted more money. Among other things, they wanted to expand Medicaid. They needed to increase state revenues. Their problem was that the Colorado Constitution requires a vote on new state taxes and the U.S. was in the depths of a severe economic downturn.

icon_blog_noteState officials knew that a new tax would never be approved by a popular vote. To get around both the letter and the spirit of their constitutional duty, they simply labeled the provider tax a “fee” and imposed it. Fees do not require a vote.

Today that tax badly disguised as a fee is raising $688 million in additional revenues that is counted towards the total amount of tax revenue that the state is allowed to keep under the Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR).

 

Continue reading

Mar 25

Colorado budget bill eliminates TABOR refunds, slashes spending

Hospitals and road construction take a hit, but budget writers warn it could have been far worse

(Denver Post file)

Facing a money crunch, Colorado lawmakers resorted to extraordinary feats to craft a $27 billion budget bill Thursday, eliminating a $59 million taxpayer refund, slashing $73 million of payments to hospitals and cutting $50 million for road construction.

Even then, budget writers needed to pull millions from other cash accounts and tap reserves to balance the spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

But the moves prevented even deeper spending cuts to classrooms, college campuses and health care providers that Gov. John Hickenlooper proposed in his budget plan.

Click (HERE) to read the rest of the story:

 

Mar 20

Low state revenues may mean no TABOR refunds next year

Low state revenues may mean no TABOR refunds next year

2016_Legislature_LOGOS

DENVER — State revenues have dropped off a bit, enough that it could prevent an automatic refund under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, state economists told lawmakers on Friday.

Projections for the next fiscal year are expected to be down by about $111 million, meaning the state likely won’t reach the revenue cap that automatically triggers a refund under TABOR as had been expected from the last forecast in December, the Colorado Legislature’s chief economist, Natalie Mullis, told members of the Joint Budget Committee.

“We did lower our expectations for general fund revenue,” Mullis said. “In December, we expected that general fund revenue would grow by 1.8 percent this year, which is actually negative if you adjust for population growth and inflation. It’s slowed down a little bit to 1.5 percent in this revenue forecast. That impacts the bottom line.”

In her forecast for the first quarter of 2016, Mullis said that the national and state economies expanded last year, but slowed somewhat in the second half of 2015. Continue reading

Mar 05

Republican leader: TABOR issue rides on who should decide

Rep. Brian DelGrosso. R-Loveland

Rep. Brian DelGrosso,
R-Loveland

House Republican leader Brian DelGrosso of Loveland said it’s time for “honest fiscal policy” and not TABOR accounting gimmicks to pay for Colorado’s roads and bridges.

DelGrosso has penned an editorial laying out his — and presumably the Republican caucus’ — position on a Democratic plan to reclassify the state’s hospital provider fee to get it out from under a revenue cap voters approved in 1992 when they added the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to the state constitution.

The move also would negate state refunds worth between about $37 up to $111 per taxpayer next year.

“Taking more money from taxpayers without their consent will not solve our challenges,” DelGrosso writes. “We have the money and our budget is growing, but using some budget maneuver is definitely no substitute for honest fiscal policy.”

 

To read the rest of this story, click (HERE):

Mar 05

TABOR Refunds Targeted By Proposed Ballot Measure

Dan Ritchie, former chancellor of the University of Denver and current co-chair of Building a Better Colorado, announces a push to get a measure on the 2016 ballot that would allow state government to keep more revenue.

Tax refunds or more money for schools and roads? That’s how a coalition frames a debate it hopes to spark in Colorado.

A group of bipartisan civic leaders announced Friday that it’s starting a campaign to get a measure on the 2016 ballot asking voters to ease a revenue cap on state government.

“We are really determined to get something done about this,” said Dan Ritchie, co-chair of Building a Better Colorado, a nonpartisan coalition that toured the state having conversations about Colorado’s political system and constitution.

If passed, the measure’s backers say state funds could be spent fixing potholes and reducing class sizes in schools instead of being refunded to taxpayers.

“Our education needs are not being met and we are not maintaining our road system and streets,” said Ritchie, after making the announcement at Great Education Colorado’s annual conference. “We should be planning for the future in 20 years and that applies to our kids, not just our roads.”

Supporters acknowledge that such a measure wouldn’t fix an underlying structural problem with Colorado’s budget.

“[But] the first rule of getting out of a hole is to stop digging,” said Lisa Weil, who directs Great Education Colorado, a non-profit that advocates for more funding for public schools.

The ballot initiative will likely draw opposition from advocates of small government who support the revenue cap. And backers will need to collect 98,000 signatures to get the measure on the 2016 ballot.

That group’s leaders say the state’s financial future is at stake.

At meetings held across the state last summer, they focused on problems they see with the Taxpayer Bill of Rights — TABOR. Voters enshrined the measure in the state constitution in 1992 as a way to limit the growth of government.

Continue reading

Mar 02

Blake: Funding transportation needs adds fuel to the fire

Blake: Funding transportation needs adds fuel to the fire

File photo: Todd Shepherd

File photo: Todd Shepherd

If you are looking for an opportunity to pay higher taxes, this is your year.

Already on Colorado’s 2016 ballot is a single-payer health plan that would boost the state income tax rate to 14.63 percent, highest in the nation.

On its heels comes a planned initiative sponsored by the Colorado Contractors Association, which wants more money to build roads and mass transit projects.

Not by increasing the state gasoline tax, now 22 cents a gallon, but by increasing the state sales tax, now 2.9 percent, by up to three-quarters of a cent.

The final figure has yet to be determined, said Bill Ray, spokesman for the planned initiative. The organizers have until March 25 to propose their final ballot language.

They are working backwards from a goal of raising $500 million to $600 million more per year, which under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) has to be listed on the ballot question. They will consider the state’s current revenue stream and then figure out how much higher the tax rate must be to raise the money.

If taxes are a must, user-pay levies are generally considered the fairest. Those who drive their cars over the roads pay their taxes at the pump. Those who don’t drive don’t have to pay.

But earlier polling by the CCA determined that an increase in the gasoline tax would be “roundly rebuffed” by voters, said Ray.

Continue reading

Feb 20

Health care vs. highways: State leaders at odds over windfall, TABOR limits

Health care vs. highways: State leaders at odds over windfall, TABOR limits

The good news is that the Colorado state-run hospital provider fee program brought in just less than $700 million last year.   

The money, which was matched almost dollar-for-dollar by the federal government, is targeted to increase funding for hospital care for Medicaid and uninsured clients, improve care for clients serviced by public health insurance programs and reduce cost-shifting to private payers.

As a state program, the hospital provider fee (HPF) requires hospitals to pay in an amount that’s based on the number of overnight patient stays and how many outpatient services they were provided.   

Even though revenue generated through the HPF program is a welcome addition to the cause of keeping Colorado healthy, it’s creating a controversy in the capital for other impacts it has and could have on the state.

Fee tips TABOR scales

Weighing in as high as it does, revenue from the HPF program adds a generous amount to the state’s revenue.  And although that sounds like a good thing, the program is raising issues about how that amount will negatively impact other state spending.

At the base of the controversy is the fact that HPF funds are slated for a particular purpose, and yet they can substantially reduce the amount Colorado will have available for many other projects.

Background to the concern goes back to 1992.  At that time, Colorado voters approved the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), a constitutional amendment designed to keep growth in the hands of the people rather than in the hands of the government. 


Hospital Provider Fee

• What is it?

The hospital provider fee (HPF) requires hospitals to pay in an amount that’s based on the number of overnight patient stays and how many outpatient services they were provided. It raised almost $700 million in 2015.

What is its current status?

Funds from the hospital provider fee currently count against spending limits imposed by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. That status will force tax refunds, thereby mandating cuts in other programs.

What is the proposal?

Gov. John Hickenlooper proposes reclassifying the hospital provider fee as an “enterprise,” thereby removing it from counting against TABOR spending limits.

What are the arguments against this proposal?

Opponents argue that the hospital provider fee does not meet the definition of an “enterprise,” that tax refunds should go forward, and that the state pursue budgetary efficiencies and cost-cutting to pay for the refunds.


TABOR prohibits tax increases without a vote of the people and places strict limits on how much revenue the state can keep and how much it can spend. Under TABOR, state spending is only allowed to increase at the rate of population growth plus inflation. 

If the state collects revenue that exceeds TABOR’s revenue limits, that amount must be refunded to taxpayers, according to the amendment. 

At this point, the HPF is tipping the scales in favor of exceeding those limits.   

It’s not that taxpayer refunds — estimated to be in the range of $25 to $125 per individual — would be a bad thing.   

Those in favor of the reclassification, however, are looking at rerouting funds as a way of filling in gaps of the 2016 state budget.  They see the result of that as being of a greater benefit to all.   

The projects that would escape cuts and be allowed to continue moving forward include education, transportation and road maintenance.

Workaround and end-around?

In an attempt to balance the issues — HPF revenue, TABOR limits and the state budget — Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has set forth a legislative action that would reclassify how HPF is legally regarded. 

The intent is to reduce the amount of budget woes the state will have to reconcile. 

In response to the initiative, Republican Senate president Bill Cadman and other conservatives have taken the stance that the reclassification is unconstitutional and an effort to water down TABOR.

At this point, opposing parties are at a standstill.  It’s been more than a month since Hickenlooper requested that Republican attorney general Cynthia Coffman decide about the constitutionality of reclassifying the billion-dollar hospital-fund program.

The current response from Coffman’s office is that the decision still is under review.

While the wait continues, other voices are weighing in on the subject.

On Feb. 11, legal counsels for two former governors released a legal brief that said reclassification of the HPF would be legally sound and fiscally responsible.

Jon Anderson and Trey Rogers, former counsels to Republican Gov. Bill Owens and Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, completed the legal analysis at the request of a coalition called Fix The Glitch.

The coalition, a group of Colorado business organizations, is requesting that the Colorado General Assembly move forward on the reclassification.

“Regardless of our differing political views on the HPF, we are all strongly supportive of legislation that places HPF funds in an Enterprise Fund. The original law comingles HPF funds with general State revenue, inaccurately impacting revenue growth and creating significant unintended consequences that limit the state’s ability to meet core infrastructure investment priorities,” the group states.

The group’s petition said that HPF funds have begun “to crowd-out road and bridge funding.  CDOT right now has more than $3 billion in backlogged road projects.”

Koch-funded opposition

On the other side of the controversy is the conservative political advocacy group initially funded by the Koch brothers —  Americans for Prosperity.

Standing in opposition to making the HPF an enterprise, the group’s state director, Michael Fields, responded to Hickenlooper’s challenge for a better solution to close state budget gaps in January.

“With the state budget for next year adding up to an astounding $27 billion, the state should have more than enough money to take care of its core responsibilities.

“By cutting waste, finding efficiencies and re-examining priorities within the budget, we will be able to find more than enough money for important projects like fixing roads, building bridges and adequately funding our schools — without the need for Hickenlooper’s illegal plan to dismantle the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.”

The expected revenue from HPF in 2016 is $756 million, according to the economic outlook reported by the Governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting. 

In contrast, the state fiscal year budget shortfall is $373 million.

In his 2015 State of the State Address, Hickenlooper said that our budget rules aren’t working. 

“Coloradans know we’re not fully funding education.  They’re fed up with traffic congestion, they’re fed up with potholes and they’re fed up with our inability to expand our highway system,” he said.   

“Virtually every chamber of commerce and editorial board across the state … all agree that fixing the Hospital Provider Fee makes sense.”

TABOR practicality challenged

Changing the fee to an enterprise was actually laid out in the TABOR constitutional amendment, according to individuals and groups that see the change as a good one.

The TABOR Amendment defines an enterprise as “a government-owned business authorized to issue its own revenue bonds and receiving under 10 percent of annual revenue in grants from all Colorado state and local governments combined.”

Proponents of the reclassification argue that the action has already been used to the benefit of the state.   

Current Colorado enterprises include the state lottery and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Keeping the money generated from the HPF out of state revenues would allow it still to be used in the way it was initially intended while keeping TABOR intact and money available to put into other state programs. 

If the HPF stays as it is, and TABOR caps are reached, however, the overflow will by law go toward taxpayer refunds, and the budget will demand cuts. 

“We have enterprises that run lotteries, and build bridges and manage state parks.  The one we propose provides services to our health care system that it can’t provide on its own — and they want to pay us for them,” said Hickenlooper in his state of the state address.

“If we can’t make this very reasonable change — like many already allowed under TABOR — then what choice do we have but to re-examine TABOR?”

http://bizwest.com/health-care-vs-highways/