An un­law­ful swipe at TA­BOR

The Denver Post - - OPINION - By Penn Pfiffner Penn Pfiffner is a for­mer Colorado leg­is­la­tor. He is chair­man of the TA­BOR Com­mit­tee.

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.

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