EDITORIAL: Only a Colorado legislative special session and voter ire can fix perilous hospital fee quagmire

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In a world awash in political histrionics and hyperbole, this is serious, Colorado, and we all must act.

Colorado has perilous problems keeping up with deteriorating roads, unbuilt roads, operating public schools and colleges and keeping the state safe.

The problem right now isn’t that the state is critically short of money. Colorado has the cash, but a minority of Republican state officials won’t let Colorado spend it.

In fact, the state’s safety and future are in jeopardy because of just one man right now: outgoing state Sen. Bill Cadman.

To keep state programs and infrastructure from running off the rails, Gov. John Hickenlooper must call a special session to address the hospital provider fee quagmire, and the public needs to pressure all state lawmakers, especially Cadman, to do the right thing.

Colorado’s public safety and future are hamstrung by the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights, the state’s hospital provider fee and the public’s political fatigue.

The issue should have been resolved by the 2016 legislature, and it nearly was. But a one-vote Republican majority in the state Senate gave GOP Senate President Bill Cadman the mechanism he needed to prevent an easy majority of state lawmakers to fix the so-called “glitch.”

That refers to a previous budget fix when the Affordable Care Act was being shaped. It was created to ensure Colorado got its fair share of federal Medicaid money. The state agreed that the general public and taxpayers are hurt by hospitals and doctors treating the poor for free and then passing the costs onto others. By expanding Medicaid, the federal government would pick up as much as half of the bill for treating local poor people. Local hospitals and doctors backed the plan, which called for creating a “hospital provider fee,” which would help offset increased state Medicaid costs.

So Cadman, backed by other Republicans, invoked bureaucratic voodoo this year on Colorado, insisting that under TABOR, the hospital fee should be considered tax revenue, which would trigger paltry individual refunds to state residents. But those refunds woulds create a giant hole in the state budget.

Some Republican state lawmakers then and now were critical of the Medicaid expansion, saying it would grow to assume too much of the state budget. They’re valid concerns that need to be addressed, and Cadman’s sketchy rationalization for choosing the nuclear option. Holding the state hostage — and cheating us out of badly needed road money and already grossly inadequate education dollars — was the epitome of bad government. It’s exactly why Congress is so overwhelmingly despised and feared.

Cadman resorted to legislative contrivances to snuff House Bill 1420, a solution that had clear bipartisan support in the House, and enough Republican Senate votes to make it to the governor’s desk. And so schools and roads will be shorted up to $373 million a year for no reason —  other than the obstinance of the soon-to-retire Cadman, who’s forced out by term limits and won’t even be around to suffer the political consequences he’s inflicting on his fellow Republicans and the fiscal consequences he’s imposing on all of us.

Hickenlooper should immediately call back state lawmakers for a special session to complete a bipartisan housekeeping chore that imperils so much and that fellow Republicans, even GOP state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, agree doesn’t affect or impugn TABOR.

Colorado residents must take the time to contact their state senators, and especially Cadman, to give the issue a fair hearing among all state lawmakers, and vote as well.

And those who think ailing schools and roads are the place to play political Russian roulette? You can cure the problem for good at the ballot box this fall.

Message Gov. John Hickenlooper here:303-866-2471 or email here

Message Senate Republicans here: 303-866-2318 or email here

Message Senate Democrats here: 303-886-3341 or email here