Colorado’s General Assembly needs another chance to do the right thing.
Gov. John Hickenlooper should call the General Assembly for a special session — to give the lawmakers a chance to do the job they were elected to do.
The latest session closed without decisions on major issues that affect business growth and development in the Pikes Peak region and throughout Colorado.
The lack of action about solving the fiscal crisis caused by conflicting constitutional amendments does a grave disservice to business interests in Colorado.
The General Assembly failed to address the ongoing budget problem of the hospital provider fee combined with the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, choosing instead to balance the budget on the backs of rural hospitals and the state’s poorest residents.
The provider fee fix would have moved roughly $750 million from the state’s general fund to an enterprise fund, much like Colorado lottery proceeds. Created after the 2006 fix that gave the state a five-year timeout from TABOR, the provider fund goes to hospitals to offset charity care and bad debt. Hospitals pay the per-bed fee — not a tax — to receive matching funds from the federal government.
For the first time, state revenue combined with the provider fee triggered TABOR refunds, and legislators on both sides of the aisle were eager to fix the problem to retain money needed to address the state’s pressing budgetary problems.
Nearly everyone agreed, including current Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and previous Republican Attorney General John Suthers, a host of business interests like Colorado Springs Forward, UCCS and the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance — everyone except a handful of Senate Republicans, who killed the bill in committee in the waning days of the session.
Gov. John Hickenlooper said he’d favor a special session to address the provider fee.
Those Republicans were Sens. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, Jefferson County’s Tim Neville and Parker’s Chris Holbert.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, speaking to journalists from around the state last week, said he’d favor a special session to address the provider fee, but only if Senate Republicanss signal their willingness to debate the issue and come up with solutions.
In other words, it’s unlikely. But Hickenlooper should call them back anyway; to let things stand threatens the state’s robust economic development.
As Hickenlooper noted, the failure to cut through the fiscal thicket will lead to an inability to compete with other states for business, the inability to fix crumbling bridges and infrastructure, inability to address transportation needs for the state’s ever-growing population, and the inability to educate and train the next generation of high-tech workers needed to retain Colorado’s current economic pace.
Legislators who killed the bill also killed chances to expand Interstate 25 between Monument and Castle Rock and erased the opportunity to make up funding gaps in K-12 education.
Hickenlooper told the crowd that neighboring Utah had expanded Interstate 15 to eight lanes in some areas, despite the lower population along the corridor.
He said he was unsure how Colorado could maintain the nation’s second-best economy without investing in the state’s future.
Senate Republicans don’t have the answer, either. No one is suggesting a new state tax to make up for the shortfalls. After years of stagnant wages, there’s simply no appetite for that across Colorado.
And new taxes aren’t needed. The simple fix — without overburdening taxpayers and businesses — is in the grasp of the General Assembly.
The governor should ask them to reconsider.