The Democrats in the Colorado legislature have an opportunity to live up to their rhetoric on good government.
Do they support transparency in taxation? This is not a trick question. We’ll know soon enough.
Let’s set the stage. In 2017, the legislature passed the hospital provider fee. This was a massive tax increase without your consent. It brings in about a billion dollars a year from sick people.
That’s right. It’s a hospital bed tax. They tax you when you are at your very weakest and most vulnerable, laying in pain — perhaps dying — in a hospital bed.
Maybe this is the greatest tax ever and the people love it. Of course, we wouldn’t know because by labeling it as a “fee” instead of what every other state that has one calls it, a “tax,” our lawmakers didn’t have to ask for your consent at the ballot box.
At the time Gov. John Hickenlooper was recorded saying in a closed-door meeting that the polling was clear: If they brought this bed tax to a public vote, it would sink. So, they slapped the fee label on it to do it without your consent — #TaxpayersToo.
I don’t know about your wallet, but mine can’t tell the difference between when they take money out of it by calling it a tax and when they do so by calling it a fee.
There isn’t a more important role for governmental transparency than in taxes. Bureaucrats love to hide your taxes, so you can’t really tell how much you’re paying.
The Gallagher Amendment was a good example. Compared to your friends in other states, it feels as if your property taxes here are low. That’s only because commercial property is taxed much higher.
You’re still paying all those taxes, because businesses just pass the cost along to you in higher prices. King Soopers is not swallowing their higher property taxes. You’re just paying more for your food.
The legislature added a wildly un-American clause to its hospital provider “fee.” It bars hospitals from listing ANY of this new hospital bed tax on your hospital bill.
In other words, not only do we tax you without your permission. We force you to pay it when you’re at your most devastated and vulnerable and get you to think it’s the hospital that’s overcharging you, not your lawmakers.
There is a fix, assuming Democrats don’t kill it Tuesday afternoon.
Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, who sadly sponsored the original hospital tax, wants to fix this.
His Senate Bill 38 removes the ban and allows hospitals to line item this “fee” on your bill, so you know why it’s so expensive.
Seems like a no-brainer to anyone who says they believe in good government. So then why was it sent to the kill committee?
If you’re not familiar with the inner workings of the legislature, the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House each pack a committee to kill bills they don’t like. Not surprisingly, they’re nicknamed the “kill” committees.
And Senate President Leroy Garcia sent this transparency bill there.
One can only imagine that Senate leadership wants it to die because if it goes to a full floor vote, all 35 senators — mostly Democrats — will be on record on how they specifically voted on transparency.
This could be a dangerous thing during an election year as Democrats will be fighting to stay in power in what will be a potentially Republican landslide year.
Better to have three Democrats on the kill committee, who are in safe seats, do the dirty work because if it makes it to the floor, everyone might have to vote for it, you know, to look like they believe in transparency.
Senate Bill 38 appears before the Veterans and Military Affairs Committee Tuesday, Feb. 1, at 2 p.m.
All eyes will be on Sens. Julie Gonzales, James Coleman and Sonya Jacquez Lewis.
To whom are they more committed: their Senate president or transparency over the taxes they love to hide?
I’ll let you know next week how these three guardians of good government vote on simple transparency.
Jon Caldara is president of the Independence institute, a free market think tank in Denver.
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