State Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, readily admits that he is not a fan of Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), a constitutional amendment restricting the spending of state tax revenues. In these last few weeks of the session’s duration, he will be introducing a bill in the Senate to allow the state to retain the revenues from marijuana tax income.
In an interview with Catherine Strode, Sen. Steadman says his bill will ask Coloradans to forego their TABOR tax refunds in order to put the Marijuana Tax income to good use across the state.
CS: Why are you bringing this bill?
PS: Voters legalized marijuana and said they wanted it taxed and regulated. Voters passed the Prop AA Marijuana Taxes but TABOR is making them vote twice. Otherwise, the entire first year collection will be lost to a TABOR refund. My bill gives voters the opportunity to reaffirm their desire to have marijuana taxed and to have those revenues put to good use.
CS: Is TABOR going away?
PS: As much as I would love to see TABOR go away, I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon. We’re still learning lessons. Look at the marijuana tax/TABOR problem this year, a brand new TABOR problem we never saw before. When will TABOR quit turning around and biting us on the behind? Hopefully, soon. But don’t be surprised when it happens again. If you look at the first 22 years of life under TABOR, most of the things the legislature has done to adjust to the TABOR Amendment, have been kicking the can down the road. Referendum C kicked the can down the road for five years. Some of the things that were done early on, in terms of creating enterprises for unemployment, or enterprises for higher education tuition, were ways to kick the can down the road. You might describe them as slowly chipping away at TABOR’s restrictions but most of those restrictions are still with us. Most of what you see us doing in the budget, or, this talk about the Hospital Provider Fee becoming an enterprise, are all ways for the legislature to kick the can down the road so we can live under TABOR a little bit longer. I think that’s going to be our ‘MO’ going forward. Small accommodations, chipping away in very surgical, discreet, little ways, doing what we can to live under the restrictions of TABOR. I don’t see anyone with the political fortitude leading the charge to take something to the voters to fix it.
CS: How is Medicaid expansion affecting the budget?
PS: Those expansions are not really the challenge for our state’s General Fund and our budget. The overall growth in the Medicaid program is a challenge. Even with those expansions having federal funds or cash funds to support them, the amount of General Fund that is growing in the Medicaid budget is a concern. We need to see more cost containment happening. That’s one of the reasons why I support the Hospital Provider Fee because it has stopped a lot of cost shifting that was happening for all the uncompensated care that hospitals were providing. They were shifting those costs over to private payers, employer-sponsored health plans, and the premiums we all pay, in picking up the burden of all the uncompensated care. The expansions providing proper reimbursement to the hospitals for the care they provide under the Medicaid program is going to be one of the things that takes inflationary pressures off the cost of health care for all of the rest of us.
CS: What is your impression of the state budget process this year?
PS: It has fared much better than I expected. I was apprehensive about what this new legislature was going to do. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how we’ve all worked together and all the things we’ve accomplished together. This budget cycle has gone pretty smoothly. I think we have produced a really solid budget that I’m very proud of. It’s a bipartisan budget. Most of the issues that need to be addressed for the people of Colorado are going to get addressed this year. There are a couple of things that are disappointments and you can chalk that up to changes in the legislature after the last election.
CS: What are your disappointments in the budget?
PS: I’m disappointed we did not approve the Governor’s request to increase funding for affordable housing development. Housing is one of the biggest issues in my district, facing our city or state. I think the requested funding for affordable housing got tied up in larger political debates around housing construction, the construction defect issue, and what exactly is the role of government in all of this. It isn’t possible to develop these kind of housing units and make them affordable and accessible to populations that are so desperately in need without some tax incentives, tax credits, state subsidies, money for loans to be initial capital for some of these projects to move forward. We should have invested there because it’s a very high priority in terms of needs for our state at this time. The other is Long Acting Reversible Contraception. This would have been a wise investment in the future of young women in our state. It was also one of the Governor’s budget requests.