This year’s Colorado budget so far includes what amounts to a $500 million cut to state hospital funding. It’s a frightening sum that threatens to deeply slash rural health services and to shut down some rural hospitals altogether.
The proposed cuts will be a <a href="https://www.coloradostatesman.com/difference-year-makes-threat-rural-hospital-closings-shape-budget-talks/" target="_blank">centerpiece</a> of debate at the Capitol in the remaining three-and-a-half weeks of the legislative session.
On Friday, House Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Denver Democrat, visited one of the top at-risk facilities in the state, Lincoln Community Hospital, located about 90 minutes southeast of the Capitol.
State Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, wants to shorten Colorado’s legislative session and overhaul the way lawmakers approve annual budgets by doing away with the Joint Budget Committee and moving to biennial budgets.
House Republican leaders on Wednesday said the GOP caucus wants to “fundamentally change” the way the Legislature puts together the state’s annual budget, potentially by vastly diminishing the role of the powerful Joint Budget Committee and giving all the other committees more say.
With one eye on a $500 million state budget gap and the other on Washington, Gov. John Hickenlooper and a split Colorado Legislature enter the 2017 lawmaking session with little expectation of fiscal reform and plenty of uncertainty over transportation, the state's Medicaid bills, affordable housing and illegal pot sales.
Last year, Hickenlooper and fellow Democrats tried and failed to loosen Colorado's strict spending rules by declaring a $750 million hospital fund off-limits to tax rebates. They wanted the money for aging roads and underfunded schools.
The governor dropped that idea from his proposed $28.5 billion budget this year, as lawmakers prepare to face more tough spending choices during their four-month session starting Wednesday.
Legislators make their mark through their sponsored bills. Sponsored bills show what issues legislators commit to, their bipartisan collegiality, their productivity in bills passed versus bills killed, and their dispositions related to bills that function as messages versus bills intended to become law. Legislators are supposed to sponsor no more than five bills, but only six House members kept to that maximum.
According to a recent front-page story in The Denver Post, there are eight Republican state senators among the slim 18-17 Republican majority who have been obstructing the Republican Party leadership’s legislative agenda. We are told this presents a “threat” to the Republican Party and a crisis that had gone undetected until The Post crunched some numbers.
What is this mushrooming threat? In the 2015 session of the General Assembly, eight Republican senators voted “no” from 11 percent to 24 percent of the time on 367 final, third-reading roll call votes, while Senate President Cadman voted no only 2 percent of the time.
Supposedly, voting “no” on that many bills shows disloyalty and disunity. By contrast, all 34 House Democrats vote together 99 percent of the time and are a model of party amity. We “dissident eight” are voting differently from our caucus leader about 10 times more often than Democrats in the House majority do. As The Post sees it, only good bills get voted out of committees and sent to the floor for consideration, so a “no” vote on any bill contributes to “stalemate.”
The Post’s interpretation tells us more about its political agenda than how Republicans set policy priorities. Democrats in the House vote in lockstep 99 percent of the time and that is wonderful, and it is Senate Republicans who have a problem. Really? Eighteen Republicans from all four corners of the state are voting together only 80-90 percent of the time, and this is evidence of incipient insurrection?
This is laughable to every Republican in the Legislature and anyone who doesn’t live in the Denver cocoon. The Post has it backwards. What the Post’s numbers show is that Senate Republicans are ten times more likely than House Democrats to vote independently to better represent their constituents, their diverse districts and their convictions — in other words, to find principled solutions to real problems.
We might be alarmed if The Post’s numbers revealed a rebellion over top priorities or major legislation, but that is not the story here. The only specific legislation identified as victims of raging negativism were relatively minor bills, not major bills supported and enacted by the Republican controlled Senate — all of which passed on near-unanimous Republican votes.
The most important bill of the entire session, SB-234, the state budget “Long Bill,” recommended by a unanimous vote of the bipartisan Joint Budget Committee, passed the Senate with unanimous Republican support. All 14 “no” votes were by Democrats. Neither did The Post mention the numerous bipartisan accomplishments from last session supported by near-unanimous Republican votes — bills like making repeated DUI’s a felony, improvements in school safety, landmark reforms in urban renewal financing and a budget that respected the constitutional TABOR requirement for taxpayer rebates.
The Post’s numbers are based entirely on bills that passed by both chambers and were signed into law. Why not compare Republican-sponsored bills passed by the Senate and killed in a House kill committee to Democrat-sponsored bills passed in the House and killed in a Senate committee? Maybe The Post story doesn’t do that because that comparison would show Republican unity in opposing “the worst of the worst.”
All across the country, voters are rebelling against politics-as-usual and government by elites, where powerful leaders cut deals behind closed doors and everyone else is expected to fall into line. Republicans in Colorado don’t operate that way. Yet, to the media guardians of political correctness in Denver, a city where Democrats control every single state legislative district, lockstep partisan voting is heralded as the model of good government.
Now tell me: which party has a problem and who has a finger on the voters’ pulse?
State Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, represents Senate District 23, including parts of Larimer, Weld and Broomfield counties. She chairs the Senate Republican caucus and the Senate Local Government Committee and is a member of the Senate Education Committee and the Legislative Council.