GUEST COLUMN: Say “no” to a special session
By: Michael Fields
May 21, 2016
Not even 48 hours after the legislative session ended, the governor floated the idea of convening a special session to address the hotly debated hospital provider fee.
This drumbeat has continued in the press, with pressure from countless special interest groups who didn’t get their way during the normal 120-day session. And this all comes after the Senate Finance Committee voted down a bill to move the $750 million hospital provider fee into a separate enterprise fund for the second year in a row.
Proponents of this move want you to believe that to fix roads and help schools, this budget gimmick is desperately needed. They have grabbed onto compelling buzzwords, cleverly invoked as rationale to adopt this plan. These messages are used to pull on people’s heart strings and convince them that enterprising the hospital provider fee would somehow fix our transportation and education needs. The fact is creating this enterprise would be an end-run around our Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) and would not fix our long-term funding problems.
To fully understand what has been going on with our state budget, let’s look at a few numbers:
– The state budget has gone from $19 billion to $27 billion in just seven years.
– While the average worker’s wages have gone up by 14.5 percent since 2009, the state budget has jumped a staggering 42 percent.
– Spending on health care as a percentage of the overall state budget has gone from 19 percent in 2000 to well over 30 percent today.
– The hospital provider fee has gone from $0 in 2008 to $300 million in 2009 to $750 million today.
As you can see, government is not hurting for money. Instead, it is elected officials who have chosen to shift money from transportation and education. Now, they want to take away your TABOR refunds to address their manufactured “crisis.”
You might ask, what has lead to this change in budget priorities? Well, the biggest driver is Obamacare – specifically Medicaid expansion. Since 2009, we have gone from serving 1 in 12 Coloradans on Medicaid to 1 in 4, some of whom report feeling “forced” onto the system. Not only is this spending unsustainable in the long run, but with 25 percent of our state’s population on Medicaid, it says a lot about the overall health of our economy.
Instead of addressing big issues like runaway health care spending and pension reform, or letting Coloradans vote on retaining our TABOR refunds, the governor just continues to bow to the pressure of special interests by entertaining the idea of a special session.
If elected officials can enterprise this program, however, what is going to stop them from enterprising other large chunks of the budget in the future? Anytime that legislators are afraid to ask voters for more revenue, they will simply look to this type of workaround.
Thankfully, Senate President Bill Cadman and other members of his caucus have been voices of reason throughout this debate. Last year, Cadman called the bill to enterprise the hospital provider fee the “worst bill of the session.”
This year, he has stood up to the large coalition of special interest groups pressuring the Legislature for more money. Time and time again, he has pointed out that Medicaid expansion is unsustainable, and that budget gimmicks aren’t going to fix our long-term financial problems.
We are fortunate to have elected officials, like Cadman, that are willing to focus on what is best for our state in the long run.
So, when you hear about a possible special session in the upcoming weeks – just remember: Gov. Hickenlooper would be spending tens of thousands of your dollars to pass legislation to take away even more of your money. Coloradans should say, “thanks, but no thanks.”
Michael Fields is the state director for Americans for Prosperity-Colorado, the largest nonpartisan, free-market grass-roots organization in the state, with over 127,000 activists and a strong local donor base.