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Area legislators weigh in on state budget priorities

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By The Staff

The Columbine Courier checked in with area lawmakers to learn about their priorities for the state budget and for the rest of the legislative session.

Weighing in were Republican state Rep. Justin Everett, District 22; Democratic state Sen. Andy Kerr, District 22; and Republican state Rep. Tim Leonard, District 25.

General thoughts on what needs to happen with the state budget?

EVERETT: We need to have priority budgeting. The budget has grown by over $5 billion since I started serving in 2013. That’s over a 25 percent increase in just four years.

KERR: As legislators, passing a balanced budget must be our No. 1 responsibility. But our budget is also a reflection of our values — that is why we need to ensure we are supporting our classrooms to give every kid a fair shot at a world-class education. One way to do this is decreasing the “negative factor.” Given our budgetary problems and the unique constitutional constraints Colorado has, this is a challenge. Currently I have a bill that, if passed and amended, would put a question on the ballot in 2016 to address the negative factor. The state would not only decrease the negative factor but could expand access to full-day kindergarten.

LEONARD: The demand for the allocations of funds within the state budget is always the main discussion of legislators each and every session. The taxpayers have been very clear that revenues into the state government can increase with population and inflation, and they may vote for more taxation, but legislators may not grow revenues at their discretion. The state has more revenue than it has ever had, and our mandated process of allocation among programs should continue without new revenue sources.

More specifically, what are your thoughts about the proposal to convert the hospital provider fee into an enterprise fund?

EVERETT: This is a non-starter. Government growth is out of control; we have enough money to fund education, roads, etc. We just have to figure out what our spending priorities are at the legislature.

KERR: I believe it is the best solution, in the near future, to ensure we are fully funding initiatives for safe roads and better classrooms. It’s also important to note that this isn’t unprecedented — to ensure Colorado can fund programs middle-class families care about, our state has other enterprise funds that do not fall under the constitutional budget cap. If the hospital fund remains where it is, the state will be forced to make millions in cuts to education and transportation.

LEONARD: The proposal to remove revenues created by moving the hospital provider fee out from under the TABOR limit has been opined by the attorney general’s office to be unconstitutional. All Colorado elected officials take an oath to defend the constitution, so creating new revenues in this manner should not be promoted.

What are your priorities for the rest of the session?

EVERETT: Do everything in my power to make sure we are fiscally responsible here at the Capitol, while protecting our liberties and freedoms.

KERR: One piece of legislation I am very excited about is the BEST grant program. This program was established in 2008 to provide funding for maintenance and renovations for school districts, as well as the construction of new school buildings. For example, some of these schools have asbestos and mold that have not been removed or even addressed because of the lack of funding. My bill looks to increase the amount of funding that is distributed to the state’s school districts. Although this program has proved to be successful since 2008, more funding is needed to ensure that the students of Colorado are provided with state-of-the-art facilities in order to obtain a world-class education. This bill, along with my full-day kindergarten bill and school board transparency bill, all provide our school districts the proper funding and standards that are needed to assure progress and advancement within the Colorado school system.

LEONARD: I am very much concerned with keeping Colorado government limited by the constraints of our constitution and to protecting our free-enterprise economy. Our high quality of life relies on these two pillars: living under the rule of law and keeping the fruits of our labor.

My focus will be on reforming our current construction restrictions so more affordable housing can be built, and helping make budget-priority decisions so our taxpayer funds can be fairly allocated toward transportation needs and other proper functions of government.

About the hospital provider fee proposal

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has proposed changing the financial structure of Colorado’s hospital provider fee to provide more revenue in the state budget outside the constraints of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. The proposal is opposed by Republicans in the legislature.

The hospital provider fee was implemented after the 2009 passage of the Colorado Health Care Affordability Act. The act allowed the state to collect fees from hospitals based on a percentage of some patient revenue. The funds collected go toward expanding Medicaid and the Child Health Plan Plus, and are matched by federal dollars, according to Colorado’s Department of Health Care Policy and Financing.

Hickenlooper’s proposal to convert the program into a freestanding enterprise fund would mean that revenues generated by the hospital provider fee would no longer count toward state income bound by TABOR. As a result, the state would be able to avoid refunding some of those funds to taxpayers.