Peter MarcusMay 10, 20174min321

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.”



Peter MarcusMay 9, 20174min286

Pegged as one of the most important bills of the legislative session, a last-ditch effort to fund transportation, schools and hospitals appears poised to cross the finish line.

After hours of debate on Monday, which continued into early Tuesday morning, the House backed an effort to create a 20-year bond program to direct $1.8 billion towards critical infrastructure.

A host of amendments were offered during the hours-long debate, as attempts were made to find existing funding. Democrats, who control the House, shot down those amendments, suggesting that the $26.8 billion proposed budget is already stretched.

“We made a very tight state budget more responsive to the needs of our state and its people without taking any Coloradans for granted or leaving any Coloradans behind,” House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, said in a statement. “This is not the long-term solution to our structural budget problems, but it buys us some time.”

Senate Bill 267 still faces a final vote in the legislature on Wednesday – the last day of the legislative session – before it can go to Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, for his signature.

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.

It would reclassify the fee on hospital-bed occupancy as an enterprise fund to get out from under the state spending cap, while also lowering the spending cap base by $200 million to protect taxpayer rebates.

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 legislation is the result of the legislature’s failure to advance more significant transportation funding. One measure would have raised the state sales tax in an effort to address a $9 billion shortfall in transportation funding. Another measure would have used existing taxes and a $3.5 billion bond program to pay for roads and highways.

With lawmakers ready to cross the finish line on Senate Bill 267, legislative leaders can point to an example of compromise that took a leap of faith for both Republicans and Democrats.

In a sign of the bill’s urgency, the measure passed the Senate Monday morning and two House committees Monday afternoon before receiving initial approval from the House on Tuesday.

Republicans have been skeptical of restructuring the Hospital Provider Fee for years, arguing that the issue should have gone to voters. But by lowering the state spending cap 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 measure also would address schools, with $30 million allocated 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.

“This bill is entitled ‘Sustainability of Rural Colorado,’ and we certainly focused on rural hospitals and rural schools,” Majority Leader KC Becker, D-Boulder, told the House. “But Coloradans across this state will benefit.”


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Peter MarcusMay 8, 20174min314

State lawmakers say they have a deal that can mitigate some of the failures from not advancing a full transportation funding measure this year in the legislature.

The proposal would create a 20-year bond program to direct $1.8 billion towards critical infrastructure, including roads and highways.

Senate Bill 267 comes after a centerpiece transportation funding bill – a multi-billion dollar effort that would have raised the state sales tax for roads and highways – failed last month.

A separate effort, Senate Bill 303, would use existing taxes and a $3.5 billion bond program to pay for roads and highways. But the bill faces an uphill battle in a divided legislature and legislative leaders aren’t holding out much hope.

That leaves Senate Bill 267, a dramatic example of compromise that appears poised to cross the finish line.

“It’s fair to both sides. It helps rural Colorado. There’s some things that cause the Democrats to cringe to vote ‘yes’ and there’s things in there that are going to cause Republicans to cringe to vote ‘yes.’ But I think it’s the right thing to do,” said Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who has been leading talks for Republicans.

The bill received a final 25-10 vote in the Senate on Monday. It now heads to the House for consideration. With three days left in the session, time is critical.

The sticking point in the conversation had been over Medicaid reform. Republicans said the deal that was reached with Democrats included a requirement that co-pays for Medicaid patients be set at the maximum level set by the federal government. Democrats, however, said that was never part of the deal.

A compromise was reached to increase co-pays for Medicaid patients but not up to the federal maximum for outpatient services.

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.

It would reclassify the fee on hospital-bed occupancy as an enterprise fund to get out from under the state spending cap, while also lowering the spending cap base by $200 million to protect taxpayer rebates.

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 measure also would address schools, with $30 million allocated to rural districts over three years. Lawmakers have proposed paying for the school funding by raising marijuana taxes.

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.

Legislative leaders had made transportation funding a priority this session. It appears they won’t come up with the $9 billion needed to cover the shortfall in transportation funding that the state faces, but legislative leaders believe they will take a large step by the end of Wednesday.

“It does enough for now,” said Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City. “We’ll still probably see measures on the ballot, even if 267 gets to the finish line.”