As the Denver Post’s John Frank reports–the hard-right faction in narrow control of the Colorado Senate, working closely with well-funded conservative action group Americans For Prosperity, are on the verge of scuttling a critical bipartisan agreement on a fiscal matter that’s been the subject of a year of negotiations:
The political arm of the Koch brothers’ conservative network is asking Colorado lawmakers to sign a pledge to protect TABOR, an effort designed to block Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper’s top legislative priority.
The Americans for Prosperity petition intensifies the political battle on a major budget issue before the 2016 legislative session and helps explain why Republicans are shifting their tone on the discussion about the hospital provider fee.
As the Denver Business Journal’s Ed Sealover continues, the sudden intransigence from Senate Republicans on reclassifying the hospital provider fee in a way that exempts it from the revenue caps imposed by the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, thus preventing millions of dollars in harmful budget cuts to a range of important programs and services, is infuriating traditional Republican allies in the business community:
Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Metro Denver Chamber…delivered an especially strong message on the hospital provider fee: Re-enacting it does not, she said, play games with the state’s money but does allow room in the budget to invest more in higher-education. It also would allow general taxpayer fund dollars to continue to go to roads after that monetary transfer happened just in this budget year for the first time since before the Great Recession.
“We can not afford to be the only state in the union who doesn’t use general-fund dollars to maintain our roads and bridges,” Brough said. “We’re a laughingstock, and we will lose our competitive position because of it.” [Pols emphasis]
Speaker of the House Dickey Lee Hullinghorst echoes the anger from the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce in a statement late yesterday:
“We have a challenging session ahead of us to address Colorado’s critical priorities like roads and schools, and that is my focus. I and Coloradans across the state are acutely aware of the terrible budget cuts we are having to contemplate if we don’t find a solution. As we begin the 2016 session I will continue to work with members from both chambers and parties to solve these problems.
“Lots of lawyers will have lots of different opinions, but most importantly the legislature is the lawmaking body in this state, so that we can address problems just like these.
“We are focused on finding solutions for the people of Colorado, not on finding excuses for why we are failing them.”
What we’re talking about here is a change in the technical status of the entity administering the 2009 fee charged to hospitals to create Medicaid revenue which is then matched by the federal government. Right now, these revenues risk exceeding the TABOR-imposed revenue growth caps, which would force the state to make cuts even while sending out token refund checks. The business and community interests groups in support of this fix are not trying to unmake TABOR–this is about moving a purpose-specific funding mechanism out from under TABOR’s arbitrary limits so funding remains available for everything else.
And it might not happen now. Cadman is now reportedly hiding behind a nonbinding opinion memo against the proposal, the same kind of legislative advisory opinion that has been proven right and wrong in recent years–the courts decide these things, not memos. Despite that, it’s entirely possible that Cadman will succeed on the strength of that opinion in locking down the Senate Republican majority, denying a broad bipartisan coalition the single Senate Republican vote needed to pass this fix.
A single vote, folks. You can’t separate the frustration over the intransigence of the GOP Senate majority from the extremely narrow control Cadman wields over his chamber. One Senate seat, won in 2014 by well under 1,000 votes, gives Cadman the power to thwart the consensus of the entire rest of the state. Republicans and Democrats alike are outraged, but in the end there’s nothing they can do if Cadman and his hard-right majority refuse to engage in good faith.
When we say elections matter, and every vote in every election matters, this looming disaster shows why.