State budgets continue to ignore schools, highways

Friday, Dec. 16, 2016 1:57 PM

By J. Paul Brown

One of my responsibilities as your state representative is to attend the Joint Budget Committee (JBC) hearings for state departments for which my committees have oversite.

That has made December a very busy month for me as I finish up my term in the Colorado Legislature. Gov. Hickenlooper has presented his proposed 2017-18 budget, which the JBC will consider.

After having hearings on requests from state agencies, the JBC will adopt a state budget. It will then be presented to the General Assembly for amendments and adoption. Unlike the federal government, the Colorado Legislature must adopt a balanced budget.

My priorities have always been K-12 education and highways, among other things. There is never enough money for all requests and the governor and Legislature are tasked with prioritizing those requests. The governor is proposing a $28.5 billion total budget, of which $10.9 million is the general fund equating to a 3.7 percent increase over the previous year. There is a $500 million shortfall between spending requests and revenue.

The big ticket requirements in the general fund budget, the governor's request, and my comments are as follows:

Increases in K-12 funding as required by Amendment 23 for each School District are: new enrollment plus inflation for a total increase of $243.5 million. The governor is proposing to cut the school districts and increase the "negative factor" by $45 million. Colorado has shorted K-12 education by almost $1 billion since the "negative factor" was initiated by the Ritter administration in 2009. I believe that we must not increase the negative factor by one dime!SB 228 requires that $164 million be spent on transportation and capital development. (I was unsuccessful in running a bill last session to mandate that $200 million for five years be spent on highways, as was the original intent of SB 228.) The governor proposes to cut this budget by $100 million. We cannot afford to continue to put highways on the back burner.A TABOR tax refund of $195 million is anticipated because the Hospital Provider fee, a federal subsidy, is counted as revenue in the General Fund budget. To offset the refund, the Governor is proposing to cut the Hospital Provider Fee by a corresponding $195 million. The Hospital Provider Fee is designed to backfill hospital costs required by the Feds. Hospitals must serve, free of charge, anyone that comes to the emergency room and must serve all Medicaid patients at approximately 60 percent of the real costs. Making these cuts will hurt hospitals. The solution is to make the Hospital Provider Fee a separate enterprise. In my opinion the Hospital Provider Fee should never have been in the General Fund. Making it an enterprise would help to simplify a very complicated process.Not being discussed, and the only long-term solution to a sustained budget, is the need to repeal or modify the expansion of Medicaid. This is critical for funding K-12 Education and other departments. The Democrats passed the expansion in 2013 with no plan to pay for it. School districts beware.

J. Paul Brown is the state representative for Colorado House District 59.