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.
That bill passed 43-22, also with support from Coram and Brown.
The main legislation would restructure the hospital fee as an enterprise fund, or government-owned business. Established by lawmakers in 2009, the fee is assessed on hospitals to force a match of additional federal health care dollars.
The plan would exempt the fee from the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, taking the revenue out of the TABOR calculation and lowering taxpayer refunds set aside in the general fund, thereby freeing money for spending.
“It’s not a conservative value to use federal money,” Brown said of the federal match for health care dollars. “I have to do what I think is right. You have to take some risks, you just can’t play politics all the time.”
He passed an amendment Thursday to expand funding taken from a severance tax fund.
Over 10 years, severance taxes have been raided to the tune of $362 million. The money – generated from production of minerals such as natural gas and oil – is partly meant for local governments.
Brown also passed an amendment that would default to a Colorado Department of Transportation priorities list in choosing road and highway projects to fund with the additional resources.
K-12 and higher education would also see additional money. And hospitals would see increased distributions of revenue by $146.6 million. The increase would be spent on large Medicaid populations, especially in rural Colorado.
Durango stands to benefit from the funding, as CDOT has highlighted a couple of projects in the area. The intersection of U.S. highways 550 and 160 has been prioritized, as well as Highway 160 from Alamosa to Durango.
Critics of the bill say there are no guarantees that the extra money would be spent on critical state resources.
“How can we guarantee … that we’re going to see those projects get funded in that order. The only way to assure that is to go to the ballot and put it in the constitution,” said House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland.
Conservative groups, including Americans for Prosperity and Advancing Colorado, urged lawmakers to kill the bills.
The measures have an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled Senate, where President Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs has expressed concerns with the legislation. Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, also opposes the measures.
Republican leadership in January pointed to a legal memo from nonpartisan legislative counsel that said the restructuring would be illegal. The memo stated that lawmakers must ask voters for permission or enact legislation that would allow the Legislature to create a new TABOR-exempt enterprise.
But Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman in February issued an opinion stating that the move would be legal.
If the bill makes it to the full Senate for debate, it would likely pass, with Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, being the swing vote. But if the bill makes it to a Senate “kill committee,” it could have a short life.
“Now is the time to pass this bill because I think the Supreme Court will make the ultimate decision, as we have had opposite opinions by legislative council and the attorney general,” Coram said. “I totally support TABOR, but now is the time to stop kicking the can down the road.”