December Greetings to Everyone in Eagle County and Routt County!
Since I last wrote to you in early November, I have been reviewing the Governor's FY16-17 Budget Proposal, presented on November 2, and asking questions about possible solutions to our fiscal problems, studying the final
version of Colorado's Water Plan, working on 2016 bills, and meeting with constituents. In December and early January before the
2016 Session of the 70th Colorado General Assembly begins on January 13, I will participate in SMART Hearings for State Agencies over which the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee and the House Transportation and Energy Committees have oversight Authority and responsibility. I represent you on these committees, and I am the Vice Chair of House Transportation and Energy.
Our FY16-17 Budget Challenges in 2016 and a Possible Solution
Annually in November, the Governor presents his version of the next fiscal year budget to the JBC (Joint Budget Committee). The JBC holds hearings from November- March, and then presents both houses with a carefully worked out, bipartisan budget. In late March, the House and Senate each review the Long Bill (the annual budget bill, developed by the JBC), and provide potential amendments. The budget and amendments are then debated and voted on by each chamber. I will update you in March.
This year's budget will be very challenging. The Governor did what he is required by law to do: present the JBC with a balanced budget. To do that, he recommended $373 million in cuts. These include cuts to higher education, k-12 education, roads, hospitals, and other infrastructure and basic services even when our economy is improving. A bill that passed the House in 2015 and was killed in the Senate could have avoided $289 million of these cuts. This partial solution will be considered again in 2016. For now, it is known as the Hospital Provide Fee bill.
Here's how it would work. Under the 1992 amendment to our State Constitution known as TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights), the state is required to refund taxes when actual revenues to the State exceed an amount determined by formula in our Constitution. That formula uses population growth and various economic indices to restrain the growth of state revenue. Due to growth in the hospital provider fee, which is actually not state revenue but has been misclassified as revenue since 2009, we went over the cap. The fee is paid by hospitals at their request to help cover their costs of and losses from treating indigent patients. The fees are passed through the State to the Federal Government who then matches them at 100 percent and returns them and the match money to the hospitals.
The State of Colorado does not, and cannot by law; use these fees or the match as revenue for state programs. 100% of these monies must go to the hospitals that paid the fee. Yet, under current statute these fees are counted as revenue. This fee and its use fit squarely in the Colorado Constitutional definition of an "enterprise fund" within the TABOR Amendment, but are not now classified as such in statute. If the fee were correctly classified as an enterprise fund, the monies that go to the hospitals would not count as revenue for TABOR calculations.
This misclassification has put us over the TABOR threshold, so we must refund $289 million to taxpayers. That turns out to be an average of $17 per taxpayer. As JBC Chair Representative Millie Hamner (D-Dillon) put it: “At a time when we should be investing in our kids’ education, our rural and Western Slope hospitals and our roads, we’re making cuts and issuing refunds instead...That makes no sense.”
I hope we can work across the aisle to find solutions.
Colorado's Water Plan: Working Together to Conserve our Most Precious Natural Resource.
Please see my commentary, published in both the Vail Daily and the Steamboat Today. I have also sent it to the Aspen Times.
Our Colorado Water Plan is based on countless hours of grass roots, basin round-table meetings, hearings all over the state from 2013-2015 before the Interim Joint Water Resources Review Committee on which I serve, and far reaching research on water supply and demand. I am confident that the recommendations from the plan will help to guide us to short term and long term solutions to the water supply demand gap while enhancing our economy and quality of life and keeping our rivers and riparian habitats healthy. Please do go to the links to learn more.
Funding transportation remains a pressing issue for our state, both short term and long term. In future newsletters, I will go into more detail as proposals emerge. But we do have one short term funding source on the table.
If we can pass the Hospital Provider Fee bill this 2016 Session, an additional $200 million annual transfer to CDOT - Colorado Department of Transportation will be triggered by statute over the next three years. Even with that "SB228 transfer", we still need to find a more permanent, predictable way to fund our multi modal transportation needs. Other states, like Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Georgia have recently created reliable, recurring transportation funding sources.
Representative Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale) and I are running a 2016 version of our bill to clarify the law regarding Winter Traction requirements for passenger vehicles on the Mountain Corridor of I-70. The bill was recommended for introduction in 2016 as an official committee bill with some bipartisan support by TLRC- Transportation Legislation Review Committee on November 2. We continue to work with stakeholders. Stay tuned!
SMART (State Measurement for Accountable, Responsive, and Transparent Government Act) oversight hearings in December and January prior to the
Session Opening Day
At the required annual SMART oversight hearing, each agency presents their performance plan with measurable goals, focusing on costs and efficiency of delivering goods and services to taxpayers and customers of state government. They are also required to present their regulatory agenda for the next year, and their budget, which has already been examined by the JBC. All of these documents are provided to the oversight committee prior to the hearing. We ask questions, then there is public testimony, and then our committee makes recommendations to the department to be carried out.
The performance plan serves as a guide to the department's major functions and as a tool to evaluate performance goals over time. Similarly, the regulatory agenda presented describes new or revised rules for the coming calendar year, the basis and purpose of those rules, potential impacts of rules on people, businesses, and communities, and a review of previously adopted rules, their costs and impacts.
Visiting with Constituents and Helping Solve Problems for Constituents in November and Early December
Much of November and early December was devoted to meeting with individual constituents, businesses, nonprofits, and some of our local governments. As reported in my November, 2015 newsletter, I was delighted and privileged to visit schools in Gypsum, Eagle-Vail, Yampa, Oak Creek, Hayden, and Steamboat Springs in late October and early November. My meetings with the Oak Creek and Hayden Town Boards made me more aware of issues. We all owe a huge thanks to the Town Boards/Councils of all 11 municipalities in HD26. They are dedicated citizens who volunteer to make our towns even better.
I have worked with individual constituents and local businesses to get them needed information and help from State agencies.
My 2016 Bills to Date
My work on 2016 bills started in the summer. Several of these 2016 bills will be co prime sponsored with various Republican House Representatives. I strongly believe in working across the aisle for policies that benefit all. My bills cover a wide range of policy issues including, but not limited to: help for beginning farmers and ranchers, I-70 winter traction, regional transportation authorities, clarifying statute and getting rid of red tape for CMC-Colorado Mountain College, allowing local school districts to reduce debt, providing credit/financial counseling for college students who take out private college loans. I continue to work on rural broadband and 911 service. If I cannot find administrative solutions to some of these infrastructure problems, we may need a bill.
You can count on me to keep working across the aisle and with all stakeholders for practical, evidence-based policies that build a better future for ALL Coloradans! I am honored and humbled to represent you and our beautiful, headwaters district!
Like you, I am happy to see a great start to our ski season! I hope you get some time to enjoy the snow with family and friends. May the peace and joy of this holiday season be yours.
Yours for a just, equitable, sustainable, and prosperous Colorado for ALL,
State House District 26 Representative Diane Mitsch Bush
Yours for a just, equitable, sustainable, and prosperous Colorado for all.
Diane Mitsch Bush
Colorado State House of Representatives,
District 26-Eagle County and Routt County
P.O. Box 770535
Steamboat Springs, CO 80477
Paid for by Citizens to Elect Diane Mitsch Bush for Colorado HD 26 • Tessa Kirchner, Treasurer • ©2012-2017 Diane For Colorado