Colorado’s leaders have found a solution to the state’s thorny budget problem. It’s simple; it’s legal and it has the support of nearly every business group from the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce to the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance.
The solution: Move the hospital provider fee from the general fund to its own enterprise fund. Since it has a dedicated use — to match federal Medicaid dollars on a one-to-one basis — it doesn’t belong in the general fund. Since it’s a fee, not a tax, that hospitals pay to reduce their uncompensated debt and charity care, it doesn’t belong in calculated revenue limits under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. And there are $60 million reasons why the change is vital.
There’s only one man standing in the way: Sen. Bill Cadman. Cadman, who represents a portion of Colorado Springs in the General Assembly, is the Senate president. It’s his job to make sure legislation gets a vote — but he has said he doesn’t support this change and believes it’s illegal.
His stance is in direct opposition to at least two prominent fellow Republicans. Attorney General Cynthia Coffman released a legal opinion earlier this month saying there were no legal barriers to the enterprise fee designation. Springs Mayor John Suthers, who preceded Coffman as attorney general, concurs with her opinion. Supporters say they have enough votes in the full Senate to pass the change.
Some political insiders believe Cadman has become too close to Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers’ conservative political action group that believes any change to TABOR is a threat to the state. When he became Senate president, Cadman credited AFP and its influence. He also made sure every senator had a copy of AFP’s legislative agenda on the first day of the session.
It’s interesting that Cadman thanked a political action group instead of voters who trusted him to act on their behalf. It shows where his loyalty lies — not with Colorado Springs.
This isn’t just legislative sleight-of-hand designed to increase spending. Without removing the provider fee, the state will have to cut $60 million from its budget because of TABOR.
It’s almost certain that there will be cuts to higher education, harming low- and middle-income families already struggling to pay high tuition and fees at state institutions.
But for Colorado Springs, Cadman’s recalcitrance has added implications.
The city is currently celebrating Gov. John Hickenlooper’s announced plan to place a National Cyber Intelligence Center here. It’s good news for Colorado Springs, already home to more than 80 cyber companies.
But without state money, it can’t happen. The Springs’ share of a $5 billion industry, its jobs, its research and development, the cyber defense the nation demands to keep networks safe — all could disappear.
By following AFP’s agenda, Cadman’s ignoring the will of local Republicans who put him in office. He’s damaging the state’s ability to educate its children, meaning that high-paying, high-tech jobs won’t be available to Colorado natives.
He’s harming the chances for the Springs — the area he represents — to bring together cybersecurity leaders, researchers, businesses and community leaders to create a national center.
The numbers are clear: Without changes to the state budget, Colorado soon will only be able to pay for Medicare and prisons.
Why is Sen. Bill Cadman standing alone? The answer: He isn’t. He’s standing with Americans for Prosperity, and against business development and higher education in Colorado Springs.