Issues still surround this bill…

SB 267 for rural Colorado again causing conflict between governor and Republicans
Author: Marianne Goodland – January 5, 2018 – Updated: 2 hours ago

Rural ColoradoColorado House Republicans and Gov. John Hickenlooper continue to bicker over last year’s Senate Bill 267, which was aimed at addressing rural needs. (File photo by Bill Radford/The Colorado Springs Gazette_
UPDATED: 1/5/18 1:24 p.m.: Colorado Politics has learned that the House Republicans today filed an open records request to obtain those budget documents.

Last year’s omnibus bill, intended to help rural hospitals and schools, is once again causing trouble at the state Capitol that could set up a showdown between House Republicans and the governor.

Among the myriad of provisions in Senate Bill 267 was one that got scant attention during passage. The bill required all but a few state agencies to submit budgets to the governor for 2018-19 that reflected a 2 percent across-the-board cut.

So far, so good.

Senate Democratic leader Lucia Guzman of Denver acknowledged at the time that the governor was under no obligation to actually implement those cuts, only that those budget requests had to include what a 2 percent cut would look like

At its heart, the bill, signed into law last May by Gov. John Hickenlooper, spared hospitals around the state from a half-billion dollar budget cut. That could have forced the closure of a dozen rural hospitals. The measure converted the state’s hospital provider fee into an enterprise, a government-owned business, a provision allowed under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). The fee, referred to as opponents as a”bed tax,” is levied on the state’s hospitals based on the number of overnight patient stays and outpatient services.

Those dollars, estimated in 2017 at $264 million, are matched with federal Medicaid funds and redistributed to the hospitals to pay for low-income and uninsured health care. Until SB 267, the provider fee money counted against the state’s TABOR revenue limits; the provider fee revenue was believed to push the state over its limits. Removing the fee from TABOR calculations allowed the state to bring in more revenue that could go to education and transportation, for example, and spared the hospitals the loss of the $264 million and the matching funds that went with it.

But with a title as broad as”Sustainability of Rural Colorado,” the bill’s sponsors put in much more than just the enterprise change. They also added funding for rural schools, at $30 million in 2017-18; allowing the state to set up”certificates of participation” that would allow for up to $2 billion for transportation projects, with 25 percent of that going to rural communities. Those on Medicaid are now required to pay higher co-pays, and small businesses got a break on personal property taxes.

The measure had one flaw missed by lawmakers and lobbyists alike: it hiked the state’s marijuana sales tax to the full 15 percent allowed by law, but failed to include language that would allow certain special districts, such as Denver’s RTD transit service, to retain a portion of those sales taxes. That led Hickenlooper to bring lawmakers back in October for a special session in hopes of a fix, but Senate Republicans balked and the session ended after just two days without a resolution to the problem.

Less than a month later, Hickenlooper submitted his 2018-19 budget proposal to the Joint Budget Committee. The Nov. 1 budget letter noted the Office of State Planning and Budgeting had complied with the requirement that”certain principal departments” submit budgets with that reduction, calling the process”useful” and indicating that some of the reductions had been implemented.

The departments of education and transportation were exempted from the 2 percent requirement.

House Republicans want to see just what those cuts look like. Almost a month ago, they sent the governor a letter that pointed out the 2 percent provision”was to provide the General Assembly sufficient details to prioritize spending for the coming fiscal year. These figures are essential to effectively appropriate Colorado’s public funds, moreover, providing them is consistent with the value of a transparent government.”

The Republican lawmakers set a Jan. 2 deadline for a response, which according to Rep. Jon Becker of Fort Morgan, came and went without a word from the governor or OSPB. All of the sitting House Republicans at the time signed the letter. (Rep. Clarice Navarro has resigned to take a job with the Trump administration.)

A source in the governor’s office told Colorado Politics Friday that the governor followed the letter of the law with regard to the 2 percent cut. Further, SB 267 didn’t require the governor to share the specifics on those 2 percent reductions with lawmakers, nor does the General Assembly have the right to be involved with the figure-setting process that the governor and his Cabinet deal with in coming up with his budget proposal. If lawmakers wanted to see that information, it should have been in the bill, the source said.

Becker, the House Republican sponsor of SB 267, told Colorado Politics the bill’s intent was to find savings in the more than 200 state agencies.”From there, we could make responsible decisions on the budget,” he said.

But if the governor refuses to share that information,”We can’t use it to find efficiencies. Isn’t it the responsibility of the governor to pass that along so we can pay for transportation and education?” he asked. Becker raised the possibility that the caucus could submit an open records request for that information. Update: House Republicans did file that request on Friday.

“This is holding hostage savings” that could be used for education and transportation, he said.

He also believes the governor’s claim of bipartisanship, which guided the passage of 267 last year, is false. This is partisan politics, not bipartisanship, he added.

By Ray Scott

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