The High Price of Bill Cadman’s Senate Majority

Senate President Bill Cadman.

Senate President Bill Cadman.

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.

10 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. ModeratusModeratus says:

    Since when do the liberals at Colorado Pols care about the chamber of commerce?

    When they can attack Republicans, that's when. No other time.

    • FrankUnderwood says:

      The chamber has closer ties to the Dems and libs than to your party these days.

      The chamber supports things like primary and secondary public schools and paved roads because a literate workforce and infrastructure are good for the economy. Why else did the business community support Referenda C and D back in 2005?

  2. Republican 36 says:

    The Republican position is unforgivable and without question undermines Colorado's future. Here's why.

    The Republicans have terminated all negotiations to make the Hospital Provider fee  an enterprise and thereby avoid the TABOR limits while simultaneously supporting another piece of legislation which would build highway projects through bonds but will cost the state $200 million annually. When put together, the Republican position means the following for the next state budget. First, since the Hospital Provider fee won't be made an enterprise (even though state revenues are increasing), the budgets for K-12 and higher education will have to be substantially cut. There is no doubt about it.

    Now assume the Republican transportation bond proposal passed and we had to commit another $200 million each year to pay the bonds. And keep in mind the $200 million will be coming from existing revenues because there won't be any new revenue due to the TABOR limits. That means another $200 million cut to other programs in the state budget, primarily K-12 and higher education.

    For higher education it will mean the following. In 2010 the state budget for higher education was $800 million. In 2011 the budget was reduced to just a little more than $500 million, a reduction of 37.5%. Because of those cuts, students began paying 68 cents of every dollar for their education at our public colleges and universities while the state paid 32 cents which was exactly the opposite of what it had been a decade ago. Thus, student loan debt has increased exponentially which means of course those with education and higher incomes can't afford to buy homes or cars. The business community should take note that Republican intransigence on the state budget is also very detrimental to the automobile and real estate industries. 

    With Gov. Hickenlooper's leadership, the state budget for higher education now stands at $670 million and students pay 64 cents of every dollar for their education. But without a change in the Hospital Provider fee tuition will begin skyrocketing again like it did after 2010 as much as 9% or more each year because the state's share of the cost will be squeezed to even less than it is now and the only way to cover increased costs will be through tuition increases (i.e even fewer cars and homes will be sold because of even more student debt and because fewer student will be able to go on to college because of the cost). This in the face of the fact that 70% of the jobs in our state require some kind of post secondary certificate or degree.

    Even more important and in direct contravention of what you will be told by the Republicans, Colorado's higher education system ranks every year as one of the most efficient systems in the United States. We produce more degrees per dollar than any other state in the nation even though we have twice as many students in higher education today than were enrolled twenty years ago and the state budget in inflation adjusted dollars in less than 50% of what it was twenty years ago.

    The Gazette-Telegraph ran an editorial stating that Senate President Bill Cadman had kept an open mind about the Hospital Provider fee over the past year. This is how open minded Senator Cadman has been on this issue. During the 2015 session of the legislature he took the position that if the supporters of changing the Hospital Provider fee into an enterprise could convince eight (8) Republican senators to vote for it, he would allows the bill to pass. That raises an obvious question. If it only takes 18 votes to pass a bill in the senate and all 17 Democrats were voting for it, why was Senator Cadman requiring that this bill needed a super majority of 25 votes. The reason is also obvious. He did not have any intention of allowing the bill to pass. He intentionally set the bar so high it would be impossible to pass the bill.

    The bottom line is simple. The Republicans in the state house and senate refuse to fund our public institutions, especially K-12 and higher education, while simultaneously attempting to lock-in an additional annual cut of $200 million which will undermine our schools and universities ability to educate our children. But of course, after intentionally undermining them, the Republicans will blame the teachers, professors, and administrators of our K-12 schools and our universities for any failures to educate our kids. This is not policy. Its insanity.

    • DavieDavie says:

      Seems as though Cadman and the Republicans want to institute the policies of pre-Civil War South for anyone that wasn't a Free, White, over 21 year old male — keep 'em poor, uneducated, barefoot and pregnant.

      • MapMaker says:

        I think the Republican model is more like India. A relatively few Nabobs, a somewhat larger, but cheaper, middle class, and a huge underclass of untouchables.

        It's to the Republican Party's advantage to keep the overall education level low. Easier to manipulate, responsive to demagoguery and willing to vote against their own interests. At the same time the R's need to parasitize the results of higher education in order to give the illusion that they support America's strongest asset, its ability to innovate.

        Given that Republicans have become God's Own Party, it's unlikely that they are even going to maintain this illusion for very long. After all, their god is coming soon. At which time they'll help him push the button.

    • bullshit!bullshit! says:

      They want to hurt people because they can blame "the government" for the pain they inflict. It is the most cynical game there is.

  3. davebarnesdavebarnes says:

    Time to repeal TABOR.
    Time for legislators to get the balls to put it on the ballot.

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