Outside spending to thwart possible special legislative session

Speculation has been circulating since the state legislative session finished last month over whether Governor Hickenlooper will call lawmakers back for a special session.  The unfinished business that the Governor is hoping to wrap up is the Hospital Provider Fee.

That bill, which failed in the final days of the session, would have reclassified a fee worth hundreds of millions of dollars that hospitals pay, making it exempt from TABOR and freeing up more money for the state budget.

The Republican Senate leader was against the provider fee legislation while the the Democrats and the Governor were in favor of it. Now an outside group, Americans for Prosperity is weighing in on the issue, spending money on ads to influence the Governor not to call a special session over the issue. The free-market group has launched digital ads around the state along with print ads in several of the major Colorado papers as well as targeted direct mail. Corey Hutchins writes in the Colorado Independent that in late May, a group of more than 100 organizations signed on to a half-page letter in The Denver Post on behalf of the pro-business group Colorado Concern, urging the governor to call a special session.

Hutchins says that outside groups like Americans for Prosperity have a long tradition of spending money on candidates or ballot measures, but this is a new trend to try and influence the actual mechanism of state governance. “This is new, especially with this group Americans for Prosperity. This group has been around in Colorado for several years but just this year and just this legislative session particularly, this group got very heavily involved at the state house in a way that they weren’t before. This group is growing a lot and Colorado as you know is a swing state that could go red or blue, so for a national organization backed by billionaires who care about public policy, Colorado is a great place to spend that money, spend those resources and they are doing this here with this group.”

At the start of the legislative session, Hutchins says Americans for Prosperity asked lawmakers to sign a pledge that they wouldn’t vote to convert the hospital provider fee into a TABOR exempt enterprise.  “Right off the bat in the legislative session, they put lawmakers on notice that ‘we’re watching you and we have activists who will light up your legislative phone lines and will go out into your district and activate and animate against you if you’re not with us’.”

img: Colorado Independent