Not too long ago, Governor Hickenlooper put out a challenge to Americans for Prosperity-Colorado: Offer up ideas to increase revenue in the state budget. Apparently the Governor is not sure where to get the money for roads and schools now that his effort to funnel the so-called ‘hospital provider fee’ moneys into the general fund has hit a road block.
Well, Governor, as our recent opinion piece in the Colorado Statesman suggests, our state doesn’t need any more taxpayer dollars in its coffers. We already pay plenty of money to the government. In fact, revenues from taxes and fees have grown 43 percent in recent years — from $8.6 billion in 2010 to a projected $12.3 billion last year. According to the Independence Institute, a Colorado-based think-tank, state government spending grew 38 percent faster in 2014 than it did throughout the 1990s. Rather, our state government needs to spend the crazy $27 billion it already has more efficiently and effectively. Here’s how:
Examine the expansion of Medicaid and implement cost savings. The expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and related programs grew 64 percent between 2013 and 2015. That includes our notoriously costly state insurance exchange, Connect for Health Colorado, currently running at a $13.3 million deficit. In fact, Medicaid now takes up over 30 percent of general fund spending. That leaves increasingly less money to spend on other critical needs.
Analyze the costs incurred by our bloated state pension system and implement reforms. Colorado’s Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) has $23 billion in unfunded liabilities — promises we can not currently pay. In an attempt to prop up this failed pension system, schools are forced to pay a rate of nearly 20 percent into PERA — meaning less education money actually gets into the classroom. Reforming PERA’s crisis–in–waiting is essential to protecting Colorado’s economy and fiscal stability.
Evaluate numerous other budget reforms that legislators could enact. There are many other budget reforms to be considered without changing the state constitution and which could save the state hundreds of millions of dollars.
So, these are just a few big ideas for the Governor to consider. I hope he is ready to sharpen his pencil and tighten his belt.