Medicaid, roads still contentious as session ends
The Colorado Legislature never will be able to address serious funding issues for such big-ticket items as transportation and education until it fixes how it handles Medicaid programs for the poor, Rep. Dan Thurlow told Grand Valley business leaders Wednesday.
That means making the state’s hospital provider fee program a standalone enterprise, which would free up money in the state budget to help fund roads and schools, the Grand Junction Republican said.
A bill that would have done that cleared the Colorado House, but died in the waning days of this year’s legislative session in the GOP-controlled Senate, which ended last week.
“It’s an irrational way to do our budget,” Thurlow told the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce at its annual legislative wrap-up breakfast at the Clarion Inn, 755 Horizon Drive.
“If you had that situation in a business, you would contain it,” he said. “If you can’t get over that hurdle, then when you talk about the things you want to do — transportation, lowering the negative factor for education — you can’t do those things.”
Like Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, who also attended Wednesday’s wrap-up, Thurlow was one of the few Republicans in the Democratic-controlled House who supported the idea of taking the provider fee, a program that helps fund medical programs for the poor, out from under the revenue limits of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.
Thurlow said that doing so not only would be in the spirit of TABOR, but also in the law that taxpayers have overwhelmingly supported since they enacted it in 1992. Not doing it ultimately could damage TABOR because that support will fall away as the provider fee continues to get larger, forcing even more cuts to roads and schools, he said.
“I think TABOR’s a good thing, but taking the hospital provider fee out from under it would give us the ability to spend the money that comes in under the TABOR cap and make rational choices of how you allocate it, which we’re not able to do now,” Thurlow said.
Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, told the chamber members that he didn’t get an opportunity to vote on a bill addressing the provider fee because it died in a committee he isn’t on. He said if he had, however, he would have opposed it.
Scott said the real problem isn’t with the fee itself, but in the out-of-control growth of the state’s Medicaid program. Cutting that, he said, is a better way to focus the state’s budget priorities and contain state government spending.
“However you want to frame this, it’s still your money,” Scott said. “What we were calling for … was to let you decide. If you guys want to spend it, let’s put it on the ballot.”
The chamber was one of numerous groups across the state, including people from both sides of the political aisle, that supported taking the fee out from under TABOR. Some have called on Gov. John Hickenlooper to call a special session to address it. The governor, however, has said that’s not likely.