May 22

Partisan posturing trumps a better Colorado

Perspective

Partisan posturing trumps a better Colorado

By Henry Dubroff and John Huggins
Posted:   05/21/2016 05:00:00 PM MDT

TABOR local leaders discuss changesLocal leaders discuss possible changes to the state’s constitutional initiative process in a small group during the Building a Better Colorado community summit at Northeastern Junior College on Dec. 7. (Sterling Journal-Advocate)

 

The tensions between populism and policymaking that are so evident in this year’s presidential primaries have trickled down to the state level.

In Colorado’s case, major policy reforms — including those that emerged from last fall’s Building a Better Colorado process of town hall meetings — have at times taken a back seat to partisan posturing.

But the Building a Better Colorado reforms remain a key part of the civic agenda, especially in these three areas:

  • Reform or replace the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), or put in place a “TABOR relief valve” so that the state may keep a bigger share of tax revenue to fund roads, schools and other infrastructure necessary to serve Colorado’s growing population.
  • Reform our primary election process so that the results better reflect the will of voters and also put Colorado where it belongs on the national political map, as the most influential swing state in the Rocky Mountain region.
  • Establish somewhat higher though reachable hurdles for qualifying and approving constitutional amendments, taking into account Colorado’s diverse geographic and demographic interests.

The difficulty in getting TABOR relief approved in the just-finished legislative session underscores how tricky it is to enact reforms in an election year where the Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders insurgencies are having a big impact. In the state Senate, for example, majority Republicans were pushed by the Colorado chapter of the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity not to tweak the language of the state’s hospital provider fee and exempt it from TABOR limits. The penalty: facing a more conservative primary opponent at the next election.

To read the rest of this Denver Post story about TABOR, click (HERE):

May 13

GOP: Hospital fees under TABOR

GOP: Hospital fees under TABOR

DENVER — Even though it had near universal support outside of the Capitol, Republicans in a Senate committee Tuesday killed a measure that some had hoped would free up money for schools and transportation without raising taxes or fees.

The Senate Finance Committee, on a party-line 3-2 vote, killed a measure to turn the state’s hospital provider fee program, which funds health care programs for the poor, into a state-run government enterprise.

Doing so would free up about $750 million under the revenue caps mandated by the voter-approved Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, something the 1992 constitutional amendment expressly allows.

But Republicans in the GOP-controlled committee said the idea flies in the face of TABOR’s spending limits, saying it would allow for unlimited growth when it comes to Medicaid spending.

“I do believe it is a major cash transfer, and I believe it was set up accordingly so that it would not come under the strong scrutiny of the voters of Colorado,” said Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, who chairs the committee. “I believe that was not by accident.”

The issue has been a major theme of the 2016 legislative session, which ends today.

It actually started at the end of last year’s session when Gov. John Hickenlooper proposed taking the program out from under TABOR, in part because it’s a fee paid by hospitals and not taxpayers.

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May 13

Call a special session

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.

 

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May 13

PLF files brief in Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights case

PLF files brief in Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights case

 

The Colorado Department of State requires companies to pay a business and licensing charge for filing various statutorily mandated corporate documents. The Department considers this charge to be a fee. But most of the money raised from the charge is not used to defray the cost of providing the business and licensing services, the classic purpose of a fee. The lion’s share of the business and licensing charges go to the Department’s Cash Fund, and less than 15% of the Fund is used to defray the cost of operating the Business and Licensing Division. Because most of the money raised from the business and licensing charge is used to provide the Department of State’s general services, it has all of the hallmarks of a tax, and should be labeled as such.

Colorado courts examine three factors to determine whether a charge is a tax or fee: (1) the language of the enabling statute; (2) the primary purpose for which the money is raised; and (3) whether the primary purpose of the charge is to defray the cost of services for those who must pay it. The District Court of Denver concluded that while the first two factors support characterizing the business and licensing charge as a fee, the third factor did not because the primary purpose was not to defray the cost of providing business and licensing services. Unfortunately, the court did not explain how it would consider the factors in this balancing test, instead concluding that TABOR did not even apply to the business and licensing charge.

PLF’s brief raises two points. First, we argue that Colorado courts should apply a presumption that TABOR applies to all charges. Colorado voters made it clear that they wanted to limit government growth when they enacted TABOR. Colorado Courts would give effect to the Colorado voters intent by applying a presumption that TABOR applies. Second, we suggest that Colorado courts follow the footsteps of other state courts in conducting the balancing test that determines whether a charge is a tax or fee, by giving stronger consideration to the third factor—whether the charge is meant to defray the cost of providing a service to those who must pay it—and de-emphasizing the first factor which considers the label given to the charge. Indeed, if Colorado courts give too much weight to the government’s characterization, governments will have a perverse incentive to mislabel charges to avoid TABOR’s requirements. Under this test, the business and licensing charge is clearly a tax. Thus, the charge would illegal because it was not submitted to the voters.

PLF files brief in Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights case

May 13

7 winners and losers: Breakdown of the 2016 Colorado legislative session

7 winners and losers: Breakdown of the 2016 Colorado legislative session

May 11, 2016 Updated: May 11, 2016 at 10:45 pm

photo - Colorado State Capitol Building
Colorado State Capitol Building 

The 2016 Colorado legislative session may go down in history as the year of little change.

The politically divided chambers in the General Assembly resulted in neither party having much success with their lengthy agendas.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing for political moderates or independents who don’t care about party agendas, but for everyone else, they’ve got something in the loss column this year.

That means 2017 won’t see major policy changes on things like clamping down on construction defects litigation or equal-pay legislation.

Here is a look at some of the winners and losers from the session, which concluded Wednesday:

WINNERS

The Joint Budget Committee

Any politician who can emerge from 120 days of politicking and still look like a high-functioning, level-headed individual. The three Democrats and three Republicans on the Joint Budget Committee received more than their share of accolades for crafting a 581-page budget that somehow managed to appease both sides. Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, and Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, led the committee to a $25.8 billion budget that averted major cuts and – perhaps more significantly – the gridlock all too common across the nation when politicians dig in their heals.

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May 10

Colorado roads debate still hanging with session ending

Colorado roads debate still hanging with session ending

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May 05

TABOR talk will focus on K12 funding

TABOR talk will focus on K12 funding – Telluride Daily Planet: News

The state of Colorado ranks 47th nationwide in K12 funding and, according to a recent Colorado Fiscal Institute study, spends more than $2,000 less per student than the national average.

According to education advocates, those less-than-stellar numbers are thanks in part to restrictions placed on schools by TABOR, the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, a significant but little-understood amendment to the state constitution in place since 1992.

 Several local groups will educate parents and taxpayers about TABOR and other K12 funding issues at an event Friday with a representative from the Colorado Fiscal Institute. The event is 1:30-3 p.m. at the Wilkinson Public Library and is presented by Bright Futures and WeR-1 (the Telluride Education Foundation).

“TABOR is having a significant negative impact on K12 funding, and it’s time to act on it in order for our schools to be fully funded,” said Kathleen Merritt, the executive director of Bright Futures, a Telluride-based nonprofit that supports children from birth through third grade. “It would behoove everyone to be informed about what TABOR is, why it came about and the impact it’s having.”

 

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Apr 30

Republicans join Democrats to change hospital provider fee

Republicans join Democrats to change hospital provider fee

Brown, Coram join Democrats

Reps. J. Paul Brown of Ignacio and Don Coram of Montrose joined majority Democrats to support the bill, which passed 39-26. Three other Republicans also supported it.

A second companion bill directs where the anticipated savings – expected to be about $730 million next year – would go.

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Apr 29

House OKs hospital provider fee and road funding bills

A desire to fix roads and fund schools led at least two House Republicans on Thursday to join Democrats to give preliminary approval to a bill that frees up about $700 million in state revenue for those purposes.
The legislation would re-categorize revenue collected under the seven-year-old hospital provider fee, which now goes into the state’s general fund and is subject to spending caps imposed by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.
Colorado House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso and House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst debate the hospital-provider fee bill.

Most Republicans question the constitutionality of changing how the hospital provider fee revenue is accounted for, calling it a “magic trick.” The fee program collects money from the hospitals for each patient they treat and leverages the money to bring in the same amount of federal funds.
GOP members argue that the maneuver alsol would cost Coloradans the chance to get Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights refunds for many years.
But House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst — the Boulder County Democrat who sponsored both the hospital provider fee bill originally said the legislation allocates money that doesn’t come in through tax collections and puts it toward transportation, higher education, K-12 schools and other priorities.

A coalition of more than 100 business and civic groups back the measure. Hullinghorst argued that money that will be put toward these needs will improve the state economy much more than sending small refunds back to residents.
“I believe this bill is the most important we will consider this session for one single reason — its adoption ultimately would touch the lives of every single Coloradan,” Hullinghorst told the House during a roughly 3-1/2-hour debate. Continue reading

Apr 28

Research & Commentary: Colorado’s Hospital Provider Tax and TABOR Collide

Research & Commentary: Colorado’s Hospital Provider Tax and TABOR Collide

February 8, 2016
Funding Medicaid programs has proven to be an increasingly difficult task for many states.
In 2009, the Colorado General Assembly passed legislation creating a hospital provider fee (HPF) as part of its effort to provide health care for those Coloradoans who cannot afford private medical coverage and do not qualify for Medicaid. The HPF is assessed on hospitals based on the number of patients they treat and the number of outpatient services provided.

Each hospital pays a different amount for the tax, ranging from millions of dollars to nothing at all. The Denver Post reported preliminary state figures estimate the state’s hospitals paid $688.5 million in fees from October 2014 through September 2015. The federal government matched the fees, paying $1.2 billion.

The provider tax became a more important issue in Colorado after the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed in 2010. The Colorado legislature added an expansion of Medicaid to the hospital provider fee program in 2013, growing the program to roughly $2.4 billion during the state’s 2014–15 fiscal year. The fee is matched by the federal government, and it is used to provide expanded Medicaid coverage and increased enrollment in Colorado’s Child Health Plan Plus program.

The amount of revenue generated by HPF has grown rapidly over the past year. Revenue in 2015 increased by around 30 percent compared to the previous year, because the state’s Medicaid program is only now appearing in fee revenue. All told, the program funds an expanded Medicaid population of around 300,000 people.

Linda Gorman of the Independence Institute argues HPF has generated controversy ever since its inception. The original legislation creating the tax attempted to hide the true nature of the tax by calling it a “fee.” Even the federal government referred to the provider fee as a tax in a letter approving its payment.

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