It was a difficult pill for many lawmakers to swallow, but in an example of bipartisan compromise, lawmakers on Wednesday advanced a measure to provide money for roads, schools and hospitals.
On a vote of 49-16 – on the last day of the legislative session – the House advanced a measure to create a 20-year funding program to direct $1.8 billion towards critical infrastructure.
Senate Bill 267 serves as an example of evolution, after Republicans for years resisted restructuring the Hospital Provider Fee to free money for state spending.
But 12 Republicans supported the bill during its final vote Wednesday morning in the House, despite facing pushback from outside conservative groups and interests outside the legislature.
“I hate the fact that we have to vote on this bill today because I know that by the time I get back to my desk the Facebook posts will start,” said Rep. Lois Landgraf, a Republican from Fountain, adding that people have been calling her a “Republican in name only,” or “RINO.”
Republicans have felt that the issue should have gone to voters. But by lowering the state spending cap by $200 million to protect taxpayer rebates and by addressing Medicaid reform by increasing co-pays for Medicaid patients, enough GOP lawmakers were able to come around.
The impetus for the bill was saving rural hospitals. The bill would reverse a budget move this year that reduced the Hospital Provider Fee by $264 million in an effort to balance the budget. The fee is assessed on hospitals to force a match of larger federal health care dollars. With the federal match, hospitals in Colorado stand to lose about $528 million. Some rural hospitals said they would close.
Senate Bill 267 would require that at least 25 percent of the money from bonding go toward projects in rural Colorado, with county populations of 50,000 or less.
The bill also comes after lawmakers failed to pass meaningful transportation funding by either advancing a tax increase to voters or using existing resources and a bond program. The state faces a $9 billion shortfall in transportation funding.
Schools were also a critical component of the bill. The measure would allocate $30 million to rural districts over three years. Lawmakers have proposed paying for the school funding by raising marijuana taxes from 13 percent to 15 percent.
It also would aim at avoiding a cut to the Senior Homestead Exemption, while also including a credit for businesses paying taxes on business equipment. Marijuana money would also help with that.
“Let us never allow a fear to decide what is best for the state for years to come,” said House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver. “Today, Senate Bill 267, it is not a long-term solution, and we still have many issues that we need to be able to grapple with, but this is a moment … it shows the power of collaboration.”