Under the Dome: This end is only the beginning
This is the fifth time I’ve endured the last week of a Colorado legislative session. I don’t have sufficient words to express my displeasure with the process or to convey the impact of this year’s convulsive conclusion.
I’ll report more broadly next month, but the real news all comes down to Senate Bill 267, a bill that “does it all.” I voted for the bill because the divided Colorado Legislature can’t solve problems through the “normal” process. This monster omnibus bill covers a lot of subjects under the banner of “Rural Sustainability,” completely dodging the rule of a single-subject bill.
The result will be a historic change in state law and the budget. Reflecting on the future as a member of the Joint Budget Committee, I envision years of hard work to sort out the details. But we will make it work, and we did need this starting point. And as one of the outnumbered rural legislators, I’m grateful for the focus on rural Colorado and to my fellow legislators and the members who negotiated the compromise.
There were several good bills this year that would have referred measures to the voters that would raise taxes for transportation. There were other bills and a lot of debate about the use of marijuana taxes. We continually debate the formula for school finance. Hospitals, especially rural hospitals, threaten to close their doors because of the burden of serving Medicaid patients. The Joint Budget Committee has worked since November and the state departments long before that to arrive at the most efficient way to use available revenue to serve the citizens of the state and address these issues. And then we get a new bill five days before the session ends that does it all and much more.
First and perhaps most importantly, the bill converts the Hospital Provider Fee (HPF), a Medicaid mechanism to partially compensate hospitals for losses incurred by increased Medicaid caseload, to an enterprise. That means that the HPF will no longer limit spending and cause a taxpayer refund because of TABOR, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. It goes on to define the operation of the new enterprise and require increased Medicaid copays.
The bill then requires the state to sell and lease back $1.7 billion of state buildings in order to fund transportation needs. It requires state departments to cut their budgets by 2 percent. It raises marijuana special retail taxes to 15 percent from the current 10 percent. It supports rural areas by directing school funding and transportation dollars to rural needs. It raises the level at which business personal property taxes are assessed. There is probably a new custom vehicle license plate created somewhere in the 76 pages, but I can’t say for sure.
The good, the bad and the just plain ugly: The HPF part of Medicaid should never have been a part of TABOR revenue. Now it’s out. The TABOR spending limit is set down by $200 million. I’m not sure how that relates to the constitution or to good budgeting.
Transportation is partially funded through mortgaging $1.7 billion of state property. Should that issue have been put to the voters? Is this the way to replace declining gas tax revenue?
Rural education and transportation are given a boost. Where is the long-term solution to the school funding formula fiasco?
Where’s the fix for the huge disparity in health insurance costs between the arbitrary regions set up by the Division of Insurance.
Where are the solutions for broadband and rural economic development? I ran amendments that were ignored on both issues.
Sorry if I sound a little frustrated. Joyce and I need a vacation. Wait a minute. As you read this we are gone. See you next month.
Rep. Bob Rankin represents House District 57. He serves on the Joint Budget Committee and represents Garfield, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties.
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Former Carbondale trustee Katrina Byars said she wants to bring a voice of environmental sustainability to the commission, and believes her opponent has served long enough.