Throughout their successful campaign to defeat Proposition CC, opponents of the ballot measure argued that the state of Colorado doesn’t need more money. It just needs to change its budget priorities. But how?
“I’m not going to do it tonight after two beers,” former GOP Gov. Bill Owens joked at yesterday’s celebration of opponents of Prop CC, which would have dedicated TABOR refunds to education and transportation.
“It’s not my job anymore to do the budget, but I do believe that state needs to make it a priority to live within these normal increased means, just as we do,” he said.
“I think government has to make a very good case for more than what it gets now,” Owens continued. “I’m not greedy. I’m fully willing to fund government. But there comes a point when we have a right to say, ‘You guys have enough unless you can convince me otherwise.'”
“Transportation isn’t just being underfunded because of a tight budget; it’s being underfunded because of a choice. My priorities would be transportation and education, and just narrow it,” said Owens, declining to say where he’d get the budget dollars to fund his priorities.
A couple of notables in the anti-CC crowd pointed to healthcare as a source of money for other projects.
“You know what we got to get on top of is health care,” said former GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Robinson, saying unspecified reform is needed along with more competition among hospitals.
Dave Kopel of the Independence Institute, a right-leaning think tank, also pointed to Medicaid as growing “way beyond budget projections.”
In fact, Medicaid expenditures are a driver of increases in Colorado’s budget.
“We have to deal with Medicaid,” said Kopel. “It can’t be done in some cruel way taking care away from someone with real disabilities. But I think there are ways it can be made more efficient and, in some cases, even improve the quality of care and patient satisfaction. And I do think that able-bodied adults should not be on Medicaid.”
But it’s not clear how to save much money by cutting Medicaid–without being cruel.
Why? Because it’s the long-term care of the growing elderly population that’s driving Medicaid’s cost increases, as the Bell Policy Center repeatedly points out. Long-term care is not covered by Medicare, which is federal health insurance for the elderly. Older people, who may have had private insurance when they were younger, turn to Medicaid when they’ve spent down their savings on long-term care.
It’s why elderly and disabled people account for about 12 percent of Medicaid recipients but chew up 42 percent of its costs.
So, you run into problems if you say, “Let’s get Medicaid costs under control by trimming the part that’s driving up costs.”
If you focus on “able-bodied” adults on Medicaid in Colorado, you find most are already working, albeit at low wages, and were added as a result of Obamacare, which commits to pay for 90 percent of Colorado’s cost to cover them.
As a result, relatively little money would be saved by cutting able-bodied people from Medicaid. And it’s unclear how many Medicaid recipients who are referred to as “able-bodied” are, in fact, able-bodied. And among the ones that are truly able-bodied, many have simply hit hard times and getting short-term help, as envisioned by the Medicaid law.
Other anti-CC party-goers last night pointed to a proposal to raise money for transportation projects through bond sales.
Michael Fields, who directs Colorado Rising Action, would like to see the Legislature commit to extending this year’s increased funding for transportation indefinitely, using the transportation funds for a bonding program to leverage more money.
Democrats have called the bonding proposal irresponsible, because it commits the state to making debt payments without having a sustainable source of money within the general fund to pay for them.
Fields also thinks the school funding formula should be changed to direct money from wealthy school districts to school districts in lower-income areas.
“The revenue is there,” said Fields.
That’s what opponents of Proposition CC said throughout the campaign.
They said it on their website: “State government has enough money – it just needs to prioritize better.”
But for now, details are lacking on how they propose to do this.
Meanwhile, proponents of Prop CC say the money isn’t there. And it wouldn’t have been there, they say, even if the measure had won.
“Had Prop CC passed, it would not have been nearly enough to backfill decades of under-investment in our transportation and education systems,” said Carol Hedges, director of the progressive Colorado Fiscal Institute, in a news release. “Colorado is under-funding our public schools by over $500 million every year, our transportation budget still has an estimated $9 billion deficit compared to the needs of our growing state, and cuts to higher education mean students and families continue to shoulder nearly two-thirds of the cost of college.”
“Prop CC passing would have helped,” she continued, “but there remain deep inequities in our constitutional tax code that make it so people who earn low incomes—who are more likely to be people of color—pay higher overall tax rates than the wealthy. If we truly want to build a state that works for everyone then we need to amend the constitution.”