Debate over Colorado’s hospital provider fee fizzled Tuesday in a committee room in downtown Denver.
Alamosa Republican Sen. Larry Crowder, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper’s budget director, and members of the business, healthcare and education community’s impassioned efforts to reclassify the fee were not enough.
There were enfeebled signs a bill to redesignate the state’s so-called hospital provider fee into a standalone enterprise — like the state lottery, so money generated from it would not count against mandated revenue caps under the state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights — might survive. The Bill made it out of the Democratically controlled House where it picked up some Republican support.
Negotiations were in the works, legislative leaders waxed all year. A compromise might emerge, they said.
Then, even Republican Senate Leader Bill Cadman didn’t exactly act like the undertaker when he sent the hospital bill to a Finance Committee instead of State Affairs — a panel known as the “kill committee.” But still, the finance panel had more Republicans on it than Democrats, and in turn they did the bill in.
“Is this the ceremonial execution?” a woman in the audience asked her friend before the hearing began. “Maybe there’s a chance.”
But there was no chance.
Republican Sens. Owen Hill, Tim Neville and Chris Holbert voted against it. Democrats Andy Kerr and Mike Johnson voted in favor.
For Hill, he said he couldn’t face constituents who have seen stagnant wages and purchasing power over the last decade if he voted for something that would increase the state’s already growing general fund and the state of Colorado’s purchasing power.
Sadly, Hill said, it comes down to this: Have lawmakers earned the trust of voters that they can spend additional money well? “Candidly,” he said, “I think the answer is no.”
Neville said he’d rather focus on what he called the real problem in Colorado’s fiscal structure: A ballooning state Medicaid program.
Holbert said he’d rather let his constituents vote on whether to reclassify the program. It is their voice that matters when it comes to TABOR, he said, “Not mine.”
Crowder, the only Republican Senator to stick his neck out for the bill, came to the hearing to testify that without the reclassification plan Colorado would lose out on necessary funding for vital state programs.
If government can’t fix it, he said of Colorado’s budgetary woes, what’s the purpose of government?
After the committee voted to kill this year’s bill for good, the news releases started rolling in.
— COHouseDems (@COHouseDem) May 11, 2016
“It’s deeply disappointing to see the defeat, for no clear reason whatsoever, of legislation that would have benefited every Coloradan who drives on a road, has a kid in school, receives health care or cares about fiscal responsibility,” said Democratic Speaker of the House Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, a sponsor of the bill.
“Ding, dong! Hospital Provider Fee bill dies in CO Senate,” wrote the conservative group Advancing Colorado.
We need structural change, not gimmicky "fixes," if we’re 2 address budget woes in responsible, sustainable, constitutional way #copolitics
— Colorado Senate GOP (@ColoSenGOP) May 11, 2016
In the aftermath of the bill’s demise, Cadman addressed reporters.
“I think I will sleep well tonight,” he said in part.
[Photo credit: Per Olesen via Creative Commons on Flickr]