Club 20 focus: Cash pinch
Western Slope residents served up plenty of food for thought for Colorado Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne — and Lynne had a serving of her own for improving health insurance offerings — at Club 20’s fall meeting.
Legislators and future governors — Lynne aspires to succeed Gov. John Hickenlooper — will have to consider how to replace money lost from the extraction of minerals, Kathy Hall, a former chairwoman of Club 20 and current transportation commissioner, told Lynne during Lynne’s keynote address to the Western Slope lobbying and promotional organization.
“Every time we need to balance the budget, we go to the severance tax,” Hall said.
Severance tax revenues, however, are slipping as coal production slips, replaced by cheaper natural gas and renewable energy sources that aren’t taxed.
Colorado will have to deal with that, and other financial challenges, Lynne said, noting that one possible approach could be long-term budgeting instead of building spending plans a year at a time.
Longer-term looks could give the state better opportunity to avoid crises, Lynne said.
Hickenlooper appointed Lynne to be the lieutenant governor in 2016 and also charged her with the new position of being the state’s chief operating officer.
The state also could use its heft in negotiating with health insurance carriers to increase competition in the rural health care market, Lynne said.
Officials are preparing to seek requests from carriers for health insurance for the state’s 31,000 employees, who will have new coverage in 2019, Lynne said.
With that kind of market, the state could use its heft to require that carriers also offer coverage in every county’s individual insurance market, Lynne said.
Fourteen of Colorado’s 64 counties have only one insurance carrier, and another approach to increasing competition could be to require that carriers offer insurance in all health insurance markets, Lynne said.
Twenty-five health insurance companies now do business in Colorado, but only seven offer individual coverage, Lynne noted.
Climate-related shifts should include better ways to treat displaced employees, said state Sen. Don Coram, R-Colo., whose district includes a coal-fired plant and mine that are being closed.
Offers to retrain affected employees do little to help the employees and take valuable wage-earners and taxpayers away, Coram said.
“Retraining is relocating,” he said.
Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards also urged Lynne to work on ways to increase transportation funding, an issue that Lynne said is in need of more attention.
The state’s congested and worn roads are “becoming a true economic-development problem for us,” Lynne said. She’s been told by prospects that they can do better in Utah, Lynne said.
Lynne acknowledged that there is a “tale of two states” dichotomy in Colorado, with the booming Front Range and struggling rural economies.
Rural development incentives and greater access to broadband will be top priorities for the coming legislative session, Lynne said.