DENVER – After laying out their policies before some of Denver’s most prominent business men and women, Democrats and Republicans each scored a victory when the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce endorsed their pet projects for the 2016 legislative session.
Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver chamber, urged business leaders to support the Democratic governor’s plan to keep money that otherwise would be refunded to taxpayers under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. But she also said it’s time for a Republican plan to reduce the risk of lawsuits for homebuilders to pass after three years of Democrats shooting down the measure.
The Colorado General Assembly begins Jan. 13 and those two issues – TABOR refunds and construction defects lawsuit reform – are two of the most contentious items on the agenda.
Leaders of both political parties answered questions Tuesday morning at a breakfast forum held in the Brown Palace Hotel.
House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Gunbarrel, said unless lawmakers are able to find a fix to budget woes caused by the TABOR-mandated refund of $212 million to taxpayers in the 2016-17 fiscal year “we are putting the Colorado way of life at risk.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper would cut $100 million from a provider fee charged to hospitals, allowing the state to keep $100 million in other taxpayer money under the TABOR formula that limits how much cash can flow into state coffers.
The hospital provider fee was established in 2009 to fund the Medicaid expansion. The fee is expected to generate $756 million in revenue in 16-17 and that money is part of the reason why Colorado will exceed the TABOR cap.
Hullinghorst wants to put the hospital fees outside TABOR’s reach by calling them an “enterprise fund” that’s not counted against state revenue caps. House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, called the plan a “shell game” and said he wasn’t sure how it could pass the “straight-face test.”
Senate Majority Leader Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, said the hospital provider fee has always been a “sham.” The money is collected then used to earn matching funds from the federal government for Medicaid patients and later returned to the hospitals that paid it in the first place.
Brough said the hospital provider fee should have been made an enterprise fund to begin with, something that is contemplated under TABOR. “We don’t think it’s playing games with our money. We are very strong supporters of TABOR,” Brough said. “This is about making sure our numbers and our formula are accurate.”
She said it’s a logical fix to allow the state to continue to invest in other services.
But the Democrats couldn’t celebrate for too long.
Brough said she supports the idea of making it more difficult for lawsuits to be filed against homebuilders for defects in construction.
“We cannot continue to do nothing,” Brough said.
Roberts said her husband is a homebuilder and she knows first-hand that offering some sort of tort-reform relief would mean more construction of multi-family dwellings like condominiums.
Hullinghorst said she was skeptical that the measure would do anything to increase the amount of affordable housing.
Contact Megan Schrader: 286-0644