Hickenlooper says special session might be coming to address roads, health care funding

DENVER – Colorado’s legislative session ended Wednesday, but the Legislature could be back at the Capitol this month after Gov. John Hickenlooper said Thursday he’s considering calling a special session to address what he sees as shortfalls in addressing transportation and health care budget concerns.

Both parties were able to reach some last-minute bipartisan agreements that brought some money in to address state roads and highways, health care concerns, education issues and construction defects.

But Hickenlooper said he thinks more could be done to get money for roads and health care, and lamented the failure of a rural broadband service bill and another bill that would have expanded transparency and inspection efforts on state oil and gas wells.

He also on Thursday voiced concern over the Legislature’s failure to fund the Colorado Energy Office after July 1, effectively eliminating the $3 million usually set aside for the office and putting two-thirds of its staffers at risk of losing their jobs.

The Energy Office spat was essentially the final battle of the session, as Republicans tried to align the office’s policy more with current federal policy and Democrats pushed back, saying Republican efforts focused more on providing for the oil and gas industry than the renewable energy industry.

Hickenlooper on Thursday said he was puzzled as to why Colorado might now become the only western state without an energy office.

But the House and Senate were able to agree earlier in the final day of the session, passing Senate Bill 267 – the final product of many failed bills and amendments – which brought in almost $1.9 billion to fund highways and roads by mortgaging off or leasing state-owned buildings for the next 20 years, among several other things.

The bill also raised state marijuana taxes to the maximum of 15 percent, which paired with other cuts and levies will let the state avert cutting a half-billion dollars in hospital fee provider payments by shifting the funds elsewhere and reducing spending caps by $200 million.

The $528 million in subsidies at risk, which go primarily to hospitals serving uninsured and Medicaid-receiving patients, will be saved because they will no longer be subject to TABOR.

Competing bills that aimed to clarify exactly what the open and public use of marijuana meant failed at the last minute when lawmakers couldn’t reach middle ground, though both houses were able to pass a bill making open records more accessible online.

Per-pupil K-12 funding was also increased by about $240 per student, and passed a bill that will enable the voter-approved measures to allow independent voters in primaries.

A measure also passed that will force school districts to share voter-approved mill levy increases with charter schools that is thought to be the first of its kind in the nation.

But Hickenlooper hinted that the deal for highway and road funding might have fallen short of the amount of money he had hoped for. A proposal to put a measure to voters to raise taxes that would have put the funding at $3.5 billion instead of the nearly $1.9 billion was met with harsh opposition from most Republicans, who then started work on Senate Bill 267.

Though Hickenlooper said he agreed with the sentiment among lawmakers that the session was productive, he said he would likely have a decision by Monday on whether or not he would call a special session.

“But we didn’t get enough done? Huh?” Colorado Senate Republicans tweeted in response.

Further reaction from state lawmakers will be posted here.

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