Halfway Through Session, The Action Has Barely Started At The Capitol

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Photo: Colorado State House, State Capitol, December 2015, Southwest Corner, Side, Snow
The Colorado State Capitol.

It has been more than two months since lawmakers began the 2016 legislative session, and to an outsider it could look like not much has happened.

Lawmakers have not introduced bills on many of their stated top priorities, including transportation funding measures and construction defects reform and other affordable housing proposals. The delay is likely because lawmakers are waiting for two key developments that have to do with the state budget and will make clearer how much money is available for new expenditures.

First, on Friday the state will get updated revenue projections. Second, negotiations over the state's hospital provider fee are ongoing.

Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner talked with Ed Sealover of the Denver Business Journal and Peter Marcus of the Durango Herald, both of whom cover the Capitol, about the first half of the legislative session and what to expect before it ends in May.

Ed Sealover on the revenue projections coming Friday:

"The reason this is important is it's going to tell legislators exactly how much better or worse budget projections are looking than three months ago when they were projected to have several hundred million dollars worth in deficit from what they wanted to spend to what they could spend next year. Now there's optimism and there've been a number of measures that've cut down that deficit already to about $64 million, but they're waiting to see... if they're looking to close a big gap."

Sealover on whether Democrats and Republicans will compromise to reclassify the Hospital Provider Fee as an enterprise fund not subject to TABOR limits:

"[Senate President Republican Bill] Cadman has said that he would be OK looking at this if the money that now is raised by the fee is taken out of the TABOR baseline amount. Basically so the cap [on how much money the state can take in before giving TABOR refunds] would be lowered in conjunction with the amount that is taken out of the budget and reclassified as an enterprise fund. However, [Democratic] House Speaker Dickie Lee Hullinghorst says this is a 'no go' -- [that] this would actually make it even tougher to fund higher education and transportation than her plan, which is just taking [the Hospital Provider Fee out from under the TABOR limit] and leaving the cap where it is."

Peter Marcus on legislative inaction thus far:

"[Construction defects and affordable housing] were outlined as major priorities, quite frankly, by both sides of the aisle, and we haven't seen really a peep about that yet. We heard yesterday... from both Senate Republicans and House Democrats that there is a package [of bills] that is in the works, conversations remain ongoing... They are discussing potentially creating about a new legal process that would go out of the courts, more administrative, to deal with construction defect complaints. And the question is really what are they going to do for affordable housing... We heard that they're looking again at tax credits for first-time home buyers and folks who want to put money away into a savings account for houses."