EDITORIAL: Legislature must fix transportation

By: The Gazette editorial board
January 11, 2017 Updated: January 11, 2017 at 9:36 am
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The Colorado Legislature convenes Wednesday for its 2017 session, meaning the public will get racy news about the Hospital Provider Fee, the Construction Defects Law and something called "The Trump Effect."

As usual, legislators will balance environmental protection against the economic need to continue mining oil, gas and coal.

Early rumblings indicate legislators from both parties are ready to make transportation their top priority. Let's hope it is true.

For much of the past decade, the Legislature, Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Colorado Department of Transportation have allowed roads and bridges to deteriorate as population growth stresses the capacity of Interstate 25 and other major highways. Meanwhile, state government has quietly hemorrhaged money on Medicaid in a spirit of full cooperation with the troubled and doomed Affordable Care Act.

The state's Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, which administers Medicaid, consumed 17.1 percent of Colorado's general fund 17 years ago. Today, with our state's embrace of Medicaid expansion, Health Care Policy and Financing gobbles nearly 27 percent of the general fund.

That brings us to "The Trump Effect," which could affect health care.

"The No. 1 factor this session may impact a variety of issues — Donald Trump," explained a Denver Post analysis of "The Trump Effect." "...The replacement of the health care law and reconfiguring federal spending likely will not occur until after the session, but Washington is the wild card."

We don't know what Washington Republicans will devise as an Obamacare replacement. We only hope "repeal and replace" can end the runaway Medicaid spending that has politicians declaring poverty while managing the highest revenues in state history.

In a recent conversation with Colorado Public Radio, Hickenlooper said he wants a transportation tax proposal legislators are willing to campaign for among their constituents after the session. Just as he emphasized in last year's State of the State address, Hickenlooper spoke about Utah upgrading its transportation assets rapidly.

"They are spending four times what we spend in terms of adding capacity every year," Hickenlooper said.

That's because Utah, unlike Colorado, actively rejected Obamacare and refused Medicaid expansion. That means more state revenues are available for transportation and other investments that benefit all the state's population.

Roads, highways and bridges help children get to school. They help adults access jobs. They move goods to stores, hospitals and nursing homes. They are integral to the welfare of 100 percent of the population. Medicaid, while important to some, serves a relative sliver of the public.

Coloradans are reasonable and smart. They will consider a tax increase, but only if convinced the governor and legislature are good stewards of hard-earned tax money.

The same can be said of the Hospital Provider Fee. Democrats want to establish enterprise status for the revenues. Doing so would remove them from a calculation that determines how much money must be returned to taxpayers to comply with the state constitution.

As Democrats see riches in a tweak to the Hospital Provider Fee, Republicans anticipate more affordable housing if only they can revise the Construction Defects Law. They believe the law encourages lawsuits against builders of townhomes and condominiums, quelling their motivation to build.

As Obama said during his farewell speech Tuesday, "Democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity."

Colorado's purple voters again elected a divided Legislature. They want balance, not division. They want common sense, responsibility and cooperation — not doctrinaire, partisan lines in the sand. They want outcomes that make a great state even better. Start with transportation.

the gazette editorial board

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