DENVER – A coalition aimed at examining reforms to budget and elections processes in Colorado identified restructuring a hospital fee and strengthening rules governing citizens initiatives as solutions to ease conflicts and challenges facing the state.
The Building a Better Colorado coalition – composed largely of civic and business leaders – sought to address the ease with which Colorado’s constitution is amended, decreased participation in elections systems and an “imbalance” between citizens’ expectations of government services and the ability to meet desires.
The recommendations could be placed before voters to decide next year.
Critics have labeled the coalition another statewide tour to gather support to raise taxes by eliminating protections under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR.
But in a letter Monday with the release of Building a Better Colorado’s mid-term report – which was made available on Wednesday – project director Reeves Brown, the former executive director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, said the goal was “coming up with consensus solutions that could be placed on the ballot.”
Since early September, the coalition met with nearly 1,500 civic leaders and concerned citizens during 17 summits throughout Colorado, including one in Durango.
An idea that the coalition says is popular would restructure a fee paid by hospital providers to exempt it from TABOR. The fund is used to force a higher federal match on Medicaid expenses.
The proposal has been floated by Gov. John Hickenlooper as a means to fix the state’s “fiscal thicket,” in which government spending faces a TABOR cap on how much money the state budget can grow each year. When the cap is hit, taxpayers are owed a refund. TABOR also requires a vote of the people before raising taxes.
The proposal calls for restructuring the hospital provider fee so the cash would not be part of the general fund and not count as revenue subject to refunds under TABOR, allowing lawmakers to spend the money on things such as schools and transportation.
Strong economic conditions in Colorado will result in taxpayer refunds, forcing budget writers to account for $289 million in rebates for the upcoming budget. To deal with the spending cap, budget writers are examining $373 million in balancing cuts.
Jon Caldara, president of the right-leaning Independence Institute, worries that the true intent of Building a Better Colorado is a repeal of TABOR so that lawmakers can spend without taxpayer oversight. Previous statewide coalitions – with similar reform goals in mind – have also taken a look at TABOR reforms.
“It’s the ‘destroy TABOR coalition,’” Caldara said. “Now that we’re getting to a point where it’s time for taxpayers to get refunds, or for the government to do the unthinkable and simply use TABOR to ask if they want to keep the excess, it’s time to destroy TABOR.”