DENVER — One of Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper’s key budget strategies for 2016 — reclassifying the state’s hospital provider fee into a standalone enterprise like the state lottery, to free up money in the general fund — went down in flames in the last days of this year’s legislative session, which ended Wednesday.
The governor is considering calling a special session after his attempt to reclassify the hospital program failed to gain enough Republican support at the Capitol, he said Friday afternoon at a Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce luncheon,
“For a variety of reasons, we couldn’t get that done,” he told more than 500 business and community leaders, and a handful of lawmakers from both parties.
“It’s not going to be the total solution,” Hickenlooper said. “Anybody who thinks just getting the hospital provider fee is going to give us enough resources to build the infrastructure of the future, I don’t think it’s the whole solution, but it is a big part, and it is the critical first step.”
The governor continued:
“And without it, we’re racking our brains saying, ‘What is the alternative?’ because I don’t see a clear alternative of how we’re going to find literally the billions of dollars that we’re going to need to build the infrastructure and capacity for the the growth that we’re experiencing. So we’ll look at that. We’re looking at: ‘Should we call a special session?’ ‘Should we renew our efforts next year?’ We’ll figure that out in the next couple weeks.”
In Colorado, the governor or the legislature can call a special legislative session.
“There have been calls to our office for a special session to reclassify the fee,” said Hickenlooper’s spokeswoman Kathy Green. “It had bipartisan support and overwhelming support statewide from the business community, so we’re hearing a lot of frustrations. The governor is listening and will look at options.”
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman told The Colorado Independent Hickenlooper’s public remark was the first she’d heard about a special session.
According to The Longmont Times-Call, when Democratic Speaker of the House Dickey Lee Hullinghorst was asked recently about the idea of a special session, she joked, it “will be kind of over my dead body.”
Following the governor’s remarks, Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, said the legislature hasn’t finished its work this year. She is baffled the hospital provider fee plan, which had near monolithic support from the state’s business community and was backed by a bipartisan coalition made up of more than of 300 diverse groups, wasn’t successful.
“I think everybody has been talking about a special session even before the session ended,” she said. “You watched two critical priorities for Colorado collapse: construction defects and the hospital provider fee.”
On the day this latest session ended, the editorial board of The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel newspaper called on the governor to convene a special session to focus attention solely on reclassifying the hospital provider fee. “It’s too important to die without comment,” the editorial concluded.
Even if the governor called a special session, lawmakers don’t actually have to take up a bill and debate it for the three days it would take one to pass. They could show up, adjourn and go home.
That’s if they showed up at all. Some might already be on summer vacation. Whether enough missing lawmakers in either chamber would change the outcome of a potential vote on such a controversial issue is an open question.
Americans for Prosperity Colorado, a group that lobbied heavily against the hospital provider fee change during this year’s session, is aware of the talks about a potential shot at a summer do-over on the bill.
“Why waste tens of thousands of dollars on a special session when most Coloradans think that a $27 billion budget is more than enough to pay for roads and education?” said Michael Fields, AFP’s state director. “The people of Colorado should have a say in this process— and AFP-Colorado will continue to fully engage our activists in this ongoing battle to protect the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated who can call a special session in Colorado.
[Photo credit Delia Palmisano/Bluehouse Photography]