Guv talks 2016 Budget, Hospital Provider Fee, & TABOR


Gov. John Hickenlooper said his annual State of the State speech on Thursday will have something for everyone. One of the biggest topics of the session will be over what to do about the state’s annual budget.

DENVER — Never mind the state’s budget woes, affordable housing or hydraulic fracturing, the most immediate thing for Coloradans to worry about right now is one important question: Peyton Manning or Brock Osweiler?

That, at least, from Gov. John Hickenlooper in talking about who the Denver Broncos should start in Sunday’s playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“The Broncos have established once again that they are a team blessed,” the governor told the media in a pre-legislative press conference to talk about the 2016 session that starts today. “My inclination then is, given that there seems to be some level of intervention from somewhere, that would push me to support Peyton Manning. Lord knows, he has had one of the most blessed careers.”

Beyond that, the governor said one of the biggest topics of discussion this session will be over what to do about the state’s annual budget.

More specifically, whether he can talk the legislature into taking a fee that hospitals pay to fund indigent health care programs out from under the revenue limitations of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

While Democrats such as the governor, and a handful of Republicans, argue that not doing so would lead to huge cuts in other needed services, such as schools and roads, Republican leaders who control the Colorado Senate are skeptical that the idea is even legal.

Hickenlooper said they will soon get a written legal opinion from Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, a Republican, in support of the idea.

“I’m pretty optimistic that once they have all the facts, they will write an opinion that confirms what we’ve been working on,” the governor said. “But we’re going to be having to look at the budget and say, ‘Well, we might have the hospital provider fee and we might not.’ At least in the first month or so, we’re going have to assume that we don’t have it … and we’ve got to be discussing what our priorities are.”

The issue is that the provider fee, which is expected to reach more than $750 million this year, has come up against TABOR’s strict revenue limits, forcing a mandatory refund to taxpayers even though taxpayers don’t pay that fee.

Taking that money out from under TABOR and turning the provider fee program into a government-owned business, or enterprise, which the 1992 constitutional allows, would free up more money for other services, the governor said.

Not doing it would mean cuts to such things as higher education, human services, K-12 spending and transportation, the governor said, adding that it could end up costing individual taxpayers more than they would get in a refund.

Several Republicans, however, have made it clear that they aren’t in favor of taking the fee out from under TABOR, in part, because they see it as a dismantling of the constitutional amendment.

“I’ll be doing everything I can to ensure the governor does not sidestep TABOR,” said Rep. Clarice Navarro, R-Pueblo.

Hickenlooper said his annual State of the State speech, which he will give on Thursday, will have something for everyone.

He said it will focus on jobs and the economy, broadband service for rural parts of the state, higher education and long-term funding for transportation.

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