EDITORIAL: Ask your choice for Legislature if they’ll hold Colorado hostage

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The only thing state lawmakers can agree on these days is that Colorado faces myriad challenges and problems.

It’s true. Colorado has genuine worries about how water will be conserved and distributed to satisfy growing and often competing interests, communities and even states. Colorado must also come to grips with how best to settle the rights disputes of those who own land and want to extract oil from it, and those who own land and want to simply extract a good and peaceful existence from it.

The list is virtually endless. But one thing more than any other has guided our endorsements for state legislative candidates this year, and it should be your touchstone as well: the obscure but critical hospital provider fee.

No doubt that often the common threat among critical state problems is money. Schools desperately need cash for buildings, but most of all they’re in dire straights for operations money. The disparity between urban and rural schools, between wealthy and poor areas, between minorities and non-minorities, is ghastly.

The state’s roads and bridges are in dangerous disrepair, and that part of the transportation crisis statewide doesn’t even take into account the desperate need for more and expanded roads.

And it all comes down to money as the chain that is making Colorado a lesser place to live every single month.

Sadly, the past class of Republican state lawmakers are the ones who’ve shackled all of us to a bleak future. That’s not a partisan attack, it’s just the truth.

While Colorado isn’t awash in cash, it has hundreds of millions of dollars available that GOP lawmakers have put out of reach because of a “glitch.”

That refers to a previous budget fix when the Affordable Care Act was being shaped. It was created to ensure Colorado got its fair share of federal Medicaid money. The state agreed that the general public and taxpayers are hurt by hospitals and doctors treating the poor for free and then passing the costs onto others. By expanding Medicaid, the federal government would pick up as much as half of the bill for treating local poor people. Local hospitals and doctors backed the plan, which called for creating a “hospital provider fee,” which would help offset increased state Medicaid costs.

So, GOP lawmakers invoked bureaucratic voodoo last year on Colorado, insisting that under TABOR, the hospital fee should be considered tax revenue, which would trigger paltry individual refunds to state residents. And those refunds have created a giant hole in the state budget. Some Republican state lawmakers then and now were critical of the Medicaid expansion, saying it would grow to assume too much of the state budget. They’re valid concerns that need to be addressed, but not by inflicting the nuclear option. Holding the state hostage — and cheating us out of badly needed road money and already grossly inadequate education dollars — was the epitome of bad government. This kind of Russian Roulette is exactly why Congress is so overwhelmingly despised and feared.

We have leaned on every potential Aurora-area legislator to tell us where they stand on the hospital fee, and endorsed on that and other grounds. Ask your candidates where they stand, and send the one to the Capitol that will move Colorado past this crisis, so we can solve the rest of the problems that hinge on this one.