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Huerfano County healthcare could take big hit in November

Prop 101 and amendments 60, 61 could sicken county

by Bill Knowles

WALSENBURG- The three tax-cutting measures that will appear on November’s ballot promise a silver cloud with a dark lining.  According to Abigail Hinga from the Bell Policy Center, the three initiatives, if passed, could unleash unintended consequences.

    The intent of Proposition 101 is to lower a wide range of state and local taxes and fees.  An analysis based on an average of $56.90 per vehicle in Huerfano County in 2009 concluded that taxes collected amounted to $573,225.  If Proposition 101 had been in effect, the county would have seen a total collection of $11,994 in taxes. 

    One of the areas that would be hit hard is healthcare.   In Huerfano County the $26,368 the hospital district receives from ownership taxes would be reduced to just $556.   It is predicted that there would be a loss of 11,700 jobs in the healthcare industry across the state; some of those would certainly come from Spanish Peaks Regional Health Center.   SPRHC employs about 330 workers and any cuts there would further stress the county which is already one of the most economically stressed in the state.

    Shepard Nevel, the vice president of policy and operations at the Colorado Health Foundation, wrote an editorial for the Colorado Health Foundation’s newsletter.  In it, he discusses projected losses in revenue that were compiled by Henry Sobanet, former Director of the Office of State Planning and Budgeting under former Governor Owens.  The projections given could occur with voter approval of Proposition 101 and Amendments 60 and 61.

    Sobanet shows that the state general fund appropriation to Health Policy and Financing, including Medicaid, would have to be slashed by 34 percent or about $535 million in annual cuts.  At the same time, according to a study released by the Colorado Health Institute, 200,000 more people in Colorado could become eligible for Medicaid because of state and federal health care reforms recently passed.

    All that would be left if the measures are fully implemented, according to an analysis by the Colorado Legislative Council Staff, is the state’s general operating budget.  And that will almost entirely be committed to paying for the constitutional requirements of K-12 education “with no money left to pay for other government functions.”

    The one proposed amendment that draws the ire of most funding districts as well as city and county governments is amendment 61.  This amendment puts the brakes to government borrowing or debt creation.

    Under amendment 61, local governments, which include enterprises, authorities and other political entities, may borrow money or other items of value only if the borrowing is approved by voters in a November election.  Such a loan will be considered bonded debt and must be repaid in 10 years.

    Currently, local governments use certificates of participation, lease-purchase and other forms of borrowing which can be entered into without voter approval.  Amendment 61 would make it more difficult for local government or enterprises such as the Huerfano County Hospital District to use these types of mechanisms to borrow funds.

    Proponents of amendment 61 say that the amendment enforces the restrictions placed by TABOR on government borrowing.  A presentation of arguments advanced by proponents can be found at http://cotaxreforms.com    Nevertheless, if local and state governments are not able to float bonds or acquire monies through loans, necessary improvements such as a waste water treatment plant or structural reinforcement of roads and bridges would not be possible.

    If approved by voters in November, Prop 101 and amendments 60, 61 would severely reduce or eliminate most state and local services to citizens.