Bill to save rural hospitals on its way to the governor

With the 11-hour passage today—the final day of the state’s 2017 General Assembly—of a sweeping and hard-fought-for bill to spare rural hospitals from decimating budget cuts, House lawmakers on both sides of the aisle broke into applause and cheers.

Much of the celebration came as a nod of congratulations to the measure’s two sponsors in the House, Republican Rep. Jon Becker of Fort Morgan and Democratic House Majority Leader KC Becker of Boulder.

Final vote on provider fee bill picked up 12 Republican votes and 37 Democratic votes.

The bill, which centers around reclassifying the state’s hospital provider fee into a government-owned enterprise, would reverse a $264 million cut to hospitals statewide, which was part of the $26.8 billion state budget for 2017-18.

If signed by the governor as expected, the measure, “Sustainability of Rural Colorado,” would save close to a dozen rural hospitals, fund rural schools, give small businesses a break on business personal property taxes, and set aside money for long overdue transportation projects. But perhaps its most sought-after achievement — at least by Democrats — lies in reclassifying the hospital provider fee. The fee helps cover the cost of medical care for low-income Coloradans and is matched by federal dollars. Reclassifying it moves roughly $600 million to $700 million out from beneath state constitutionally-mandated revenue limits set by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR).

With reclassification, the state can collect more revenue starting July 1 to spend on roads, education and other projects. Republican lawmakers long have opposed reclassification because they see as an end run around TABOR. In exchange for reclassification, Democrats working on the deal agreed to lower the state’s revenue limits by $200 million, a move that, in turn, limits state spending.

In the hour before the measure passed, lawmakers’ comments underscored the challenge in finding a compromise that would win enough votes to ensure it would survive both the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democrat-controlled House.

Members of the press capture the vote

“I don’t like this bill. I don’t want it. But the state of Colorado needs it,” said Democratic Rep. Jonathan Singer of Longmont. “I can’t encourage an aye vote, but consider it. Vote your conscience.”

On the other side of the aisle, Republican Rep. Tim Leonard of Evergreen spoke at length about how he thinks the bill violates the single-subject rule, a constitutional requirement that bills deal with only one subject. The bill’s broad title allowed its sponsors to insert a Christmas tree of solutions for a variety of issues.

But Rep. Jon Becker reminded his Republican colleagues that the ideas included in the bill have been on Republican wishlists for years. Becker admitted he had been late to the bill, and had opposed the idea of reclassifying the hospital provider fee for years. “I’ve seen what’s happening in my district…they’re tired of waiting” for lawmakers to solve some of the problems addressed in the bill.

“I wanted to make sure we included the conversations that you all have had in this chamber: schools, transportation, business personal property tax and Medicaid reform. These are all things stuck in this bill didn’t come out of the clear blue. You’ve spoken about them on the floor, in committees…This is YOUR bill, your ideas.”

The measure allows small businesses to exempt up to $18,000 in business personal property— think computers, phones, desk, etc.—with a tax credit from the state. That tax is currently paid to counties, but the state will reimburse those taxes. The bill’s other House sponsor, KC Becker, sa

Happy lawmakers Jon Becker and KC Becker on the last day of the session after passage of the biggest bill of 2017.

id she believes that will provide about $500 per business per year in tax relief.

That part of the bill, as well as a portion that puts up $30 million for rural schools in 2017-18, is being paid for by marijuana tax revenues, which are being increased under the bill to the maximum 15 percent allowed by law.

The measure also increases copays for Medicaid patients, doubling the current $1 copay for prescriptions drugs to $2 and the current $2 for outpatient visits to $4, on average.

The bill never changed  once the final deal had been hammered out by the four sponsors, which also included Republican Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling and Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman, a Denver Democrat.

Because it wasn’t changed in the House, the proposed law now heads to the governor for signing; his chief of staff, Doug Friednash, tweeted out a congratulations to the House this morning after the bill’s passage.


Photo of Reps. Jon Becker and KC Becker and of vote by Marianne Goodland

Photo of Capitol press by Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge

Feature photo of lobbyists by Angie Binder of Colorado Petroleum Association

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.