A deal to move the state's hospital provider fee out from under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights'
revenue cap appeared in peril Tuesday, a week before the legislature convenes.
Republican legislative leaders said at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce breakfast they won't support the move, even if they're promised more money for statewide transportation projects as a result.
The battle over moving the fee out from under the TABOR rules is expected to be one of the biggest disputes of the legislature, which returns Jan. 13.
Gov. John Hickenlooper and many fellow Democrats want to reclassify the hospital provider fee as an enterprise fund. He seeks to exempt it from counting toward the TABOR formula of inflation plus population growth. Exempting the fee, estimated to be $750 million in the next state budget, also would prevent the state from having to refund an estimated $156.
"There are going to be a lot of angry voters out there who think this is a shell game to take their refunds," House Republican leader Brian DelGrosso of Loveland told the annual chamber meeting that advances the legislative session.
Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, the Senate president pro tem, also disparaged the idea of moving the fee from TABOR.
Roberts said she had been opposed to creating the hospital provider fee in 2009 to attract matching federal Medicaid money, calling it "a sham."
"Transportation funding is important, very important, especially in rural Colorado, but I don't think we do it with what I see as another budget gambit," she said.
But House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, a Democrat from Boulder County, told the chamber that without a deal on the hospital provider fee, there would be no extra money for transportation or K-12 education. Higher education would face deep cuts this year, she said.
"It will be a budget crisis this year and every year until we solve this," she said.
Hullinghorst said TABOR prevents the state from using the boost in revenue from the economic recovery for needs that fell behind during the recession.
"No business could survive if they couldn't invest in the future when times are good," she said.
Republicans have sought Democratic support for $3.5 billion in bonds to fund transportation statewide. They will continue to push for that, DelGrosso said.
The chamber supports exempting the hospital provider fee as well as maintaining its support for TABOR, said president and CEO Kelly Brough.
She said the issue is investing in the future by more accurately classifying the hospital provider fee.
Brough said Colorado has become "a laughingstock" nationally for its failures to adequately fund transportation and education.
"This is not about TABOR for us," she said.