A Democratically controlled House panel this week advanced a bill that would reclassify Colorado’s hospital provider fee into an enterprise, freeing up more money for state programs.
“I believe this bill is among one of the most important we will consider this session,” said Democratic House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, who took questions at the committee hearing about her legislation. “That’s for one clear reason. It’s adoption will ultimately touch the life of every single Coloradoan.”
During an hours-long hearing, representatives of hospitals, schools and colleges, business groups, and contractors, spoke in favor of the bill. No one spoke against it.
Notably absent? Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group backed in part by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers that has opposed efforts to re-classify the hospital program.
“Our position is well known and has not changed,” said AFP’s Colorado spokeswoman Tamra Farah about why no one from the group showed up to testify. “We expected a party-line vote. If the bill makes it through the House floor vote after the second reading, we plan to testify in the Senate committee hearing.”
The bill passed favorably out of the House appropriations committee 7-6 on party lines, and is expected to pass the Democratically controlled House, even picking up some GOP support in the lower chamber.
Democrats and business leaders are supporting the hospital provider fee reclassification plan on grounds it will loosen the fiscal constraints of the state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) and allow state government to keep and spend more money rather than issuing taxpayer refunds.
The plan has been a key strategy for Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who has said if lawmakers can’t make the change to get more money in the state budget then it might be time to re-examine TABOR.
Not long after the House panel advanced the bill, Hickenlooper praised its Republican sponsor in the Senate, Larry Crowder, for bucking his party and supporting the plan.
“There was tremendous pressure on him not to do this, and he thought it was important,” Hickenlooper said about the Alamosa farmer who is up for re-election in his rural southeastern district this year. “He cares about hospitals, and he’s really speaking about rural hospitals and the impact not getting the hospital provider fee reclassified that’s going to put even more pressure on rural hospitals that are already under extreme pressure, and he felt he had to speak up.”
In recent days other Republicans have stepped out of line with their leadership to support the bill.
“I will probably, more than likely, support the hospital provider fee,” GOP Rep. Don Coram of Montrose told The Durango Herald on Thursday.
Coram could be among a handful of other House Republicans to also support the restructuring plan, the paper reported.
Republican Senate Leader Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs opposes the hospital provider fee plan and controls which committee will hear the Senate bill. Just as Democrats in the House do with legislation they don’t like, Cadman could send the bill to a so-called “kill committee” controlled by Republicans who wouldn’t let it reach the Senate floor for a debate and a vote.
Senate Democratic Minority Leader Lucia Guzman has unveiled a clock counting down to the end of the legislative session in May, and challenged her Republican counterparts to bring the hospital provider fee bill to the floor for a vote where she’s indicated there would be enough support for it to pass.
[Photo credit: Keoni Cabral via Creative Commons on Flickr]