An unlawful swipe at TABOR
Here’s a bad idea: hide a state government function off-budget and sock citizens with a big tax increase in the doing.
That’s what the Hickenlooper administration wants to do with its proposal to redefine the state’s hospital provider charge as an “enterprise.”
Colorado’s tax system is set up so that in a good economy, taxes are collected at a pace faster than growth in population and inflation. When government over-collects taxes, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) forces it to return the surplus to taxpayers.
If the hospital provider program’s costs are no longer counted as part of the state budget, then the limits established by TABOR will be ignored. The new budget ceiling, and your taxes, would effectively jump by about $800 million, to be spent on other government programs. The legislature would keep the over-collection of taxes from going back to you, without you getting the final approval at the ballot.
Is moving this hospital provider charge off-budget a reasonable proposal?
A TABOR “enterprise” allows a government to own and operate a business. An example is when a state college needs to build a new dormitory. The college’s building authority issues bonds to construct the dormitory and then the students paying rent each semester pay off the bonds. The taxpayer remains untouched. An enterprise is prohibited from taking government funding (no more than a 10 percent subsidy is allowed) and it must have the legal authority to issue revenue bonds.
The hospital provider program does not fit an enterprise definition. It is not a government business. It is a welfare program. Some hospitals pay the charge but get nothing back at all. Others benefit disproportionately.
Only true fees can fund a TABOR enterprise, but the federal government calls this charge a tax. It is a tax on the use of hospital beds. The very concept of converting a piece of the state budget to an enterprise is dishonest and should not be pursued.
TABOR is silent on how the legislature must spend tax money. That is left to the legislative process. Legislators and government beneficiaries who speak of “cuts” are complaining about the reality that there is not enough of your money to add new programs and grow the existing programs at the same time.
There are no overall budget cuts this year. There were not any total budget cuts last year. Elected officials decided to spend more on health care, so less will be available for other priorities.
Individuals and families matter, and TABOR protects their earnings and personal budgets. TABOR’s role is important. It keeps government from taking an ever-increasing share of the economy.
There is a simple solution if elected officials think the hospital provider program should be changed. The government needs only put on the ballot for voter approval a measure to allow revenues from the hospital provider charge to be exempt from the TABOR limit.
The saddest admission by the governor is that he fully expects voters would not like the idea, so he will arrogantly ignore the Constitution and push the General Assembly to do it anyway.
It’s a bad idea all around.