EDITORIAL: Get Colorado out of the hospital provider fee storm by backing bi-partisan offering

Senate Bill 267 would finally end the stranglehold stalwart conservatives have held Colorado finances with their erroneous and politically motivated arguments over the Taxpayer Bill of Rights

Despite the damage done to Colorado by spiteful partisan politics and obstinacy from the state’s far-right conservatives, it’s time to take any port in this endless and dangerous political storm.

A bipartisan effort to end the state’s inane argument over its hospital provider fee is far from being a good solution, but it’s the only one available right now.

Senate Bill 267 would finally end the stranglehold stalwart conservatives have held Colorado finances with their erroneous and politically motivated arguments over the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

This budgetary mess started in 2009, when Colorado expanded the number of residents eligible for Medicaid under Obamacare. To keep the increase from bankrupting state coffers, legislators imposed a hospital provider fee, which raises about $800 million a year. The money is intended to reimburse Colorado taxpayers for Medicaid costs the federal government doesn’t pick up. A majority of states have such a fee, and it’s backed by hospitals and insurance companies as a way to help drive down health care costs.

The problem in Colorado is with the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR. Some Republicans have wrongly said the provider fee revenues, intended for an enterprise fund to protect taxpayers, trip TABOR limits and should be refunded as overpaid taxes to state residents. It’s a ludicrous, sophomoric argument that even the state’s Republican attorney general has debunked. Using their own tortured logic, the fee was legally imposed by state lawmakers. Under TABOR only residents can approve tax hikes.

The fee is not tax revenue and is exempt from this false argument. It’s a political stunt by a small faction of Republicans who object to increases Medicaid spending, even though some of the most vehement objectors represent rural districts where the program keeps hospital doors open that otherwise will certainly close.

What’s happened is that Colorado taxpayers are now having to fund a huge share of Medicaid costs at the expense of schools and roads. The problem has gone unsolved because of a political stalemate in the state Senate, where Republicans have held a one-seat majority and tea-party Republicans have been successful in preventing reasonable peers from bucking the party line and ending this mess. The entire state has been damaged by these pedantic political theatrics, but rural schools and hospitals stand to suffer the most.

With struggling schools nearly having to shutter doors in rural, conservative Colorado communities, and with local hospitals there on the brink of disaster, influential GOP leaders are finally ready to talk or face certain political backlash for a problem they’ve brought upon themselves.

So there’s an opportunity to end this fiscal fever caused by mulishness over the hospital provider fee, although it could shortchange larger communities along the Front Range.

It’s worth it. State lawmakers can continue to wrangle over how best to share scarce education dollars among rural and urban school districts, but first the state must have more money to fret about. If this is the only way to navigate out of this dangerous political torrent, then take the sure thing and send SB 267 to the governor.