Legislative wrap-up: CU initiatives fare well; hospital provider fee change proves elusive

Session brought bright spots for funding, efficiencies
By Staff

The 2016 Colorado legislative session came to an end May 11 after 120 days, with results bringing largely positive news for the University of Colorado and higher education across the state.

Funding especially proved strong, especially in light of an initial budget proposal that indicated likely cuts for CU and other institutions. Some highlights:

  • $1.8 million additional funding for CU via the higher education allocation model
  • $1.4 million additional funding for financial aid based on the CCHE allocation model
  • $1.7 million new tobacco master settlement agreement funds for cancer research at CU Anschutz
  • $1.2 million additional tobacco master settlement agreement funds for CU Anschutz
  • $3 million new controlled maintenance projects
  • $8 million new funding for building renovations to house the state’s new cybersecurity effort in Colorado Springs established by HB 1459

One measure that proved elusive was a change to the hospital provider fee. House Bill 1420 would have reclassified the fee as an enterprise, which would have freed up funding for state needs; the accompanying House Bill 1450 would have enabled that funding to benefit higher ed, K-12 and transportation for up to five years. Though both passed in the House with bipartisan support, they were killed in the Senate Finance Committee.

“This conversation is so critical to the budget that they will continue to discuss it in the future,” wrote Tanya Kelly-Bowry, vice president for Government Relations, in her post-session communication.

In media reports, business leaders discouraged by the failure of action regarding the hospital provider fee have advocated for a special legislative session to revisit the issue. Gov. John Hickenlooper has said he’s undecided on whether to call lawmakers back to the Capitol.

The State Relations team oversaw many bills of interest to CU, including two bills introduced on behalf of the university in ongoing effort to increase operating efficiency and cost savings. Team members also defended against legislation that would have negatively affected CU operations or brought about unfunded mandates, including intellectual property right infringement, open records privacy issues and threats to campus safety.

Among the legislation and issues with ramifications for CU are:

Senate Bill 121,  Higher Education Tuition Pledged for Bonding: When CU and other institutions of higher education issue debt for capital construction projects, they are not able to realize the lowest possible interest rates because of a statutory tuition revenue pledge limit of 10 percent. Without increasing tuition or debt, this bill allows institutions not using the state intercept program to pledge up to 100 percent of their tuition revenue in a bond financing to realize lower interest rates, better bond ratings and millions in capital cost savings. In 2014 and 2015 alone, this bill would have saved CU an estimated $3.7 million. The CU-initiated bill was signed into law by the governor.

House Bill 1459, Submission Threshold for Higher Ed Cash Projects: Increases the dollar threshold requirement for legislative review of two-year cash funded capital projects from $2 million to $10 million. The threshold increase does not apply to new construction or projects financed using the state’s intercept credit program. The bill will help CU campuses efficiently bundle small capital projects to realize significant cost savings and project delivery efficiencies. The CU-initiated bill has been sent to the governor for signature.

House Bill 1453, Colorado Cybersecurity Initiative: The bill establishes the framework for the creation of a National Cyber Intelligence Center in southern Colorado. As part of the initiative, the University of Colorado Colorado Springs will head the Cyber Research, Education and Training Center (CRETC). CRETC will house significant integrated education and training programs to develop a robust, high-level cyber workforce and enhance capabilities to minimize the impact of cyberattacks. The bill appropriates $8 million to the Cyber Initiative, which was set aside in the governor’s budget. Hickenlooper is scheduled to sign the bill Friday at UCCS.

Senate Bill 161, Regulate Athletic Trainers: The bill reinstates the regulation of athletic trainers, which was set to expire. The bill is critical to the safety of student athletes and has been sent to the governor.

House Bill 1142, Rural and Frontier Health Care Preceptor Tax Credit: Creates a state income-tax credit through 2019 for licensed Colorado health care professionals who provide uncompensated personalized instruction, training, and supervision to one or more graduate students seeking a medical degree at a Colorado institution of higher education. The credit is limited to 200 qualifying taxpayers each year at $1,000 per taxpayer. The bill has been sent to the governor.

See the Government Relations website for a full list of bills and links to bill text.

“Thank you to everyone at CU who helped provide feedback on bills, testified before committees and engaged with legislators,” Kelly-Bowry wrote. “Your efforts helped make this a successful session for CU and we appreciate your advocacy.

“We would particularly like to thank the Regents, President Benson and Campus Leadership who engaged in key legislative contacts and lobbied for CU this session. Also, special thanks VP Todd Saliman and his team of Chad Marturano, Celina Duran and Teresa Osborne; VP Pat O’Rourke and his legal team of Jeremy Hueth and Erica Weston as well as our campus legislative liaisons, Tamara Cannafax, Tobin Bliss, Neil Krauss and Jia Meeks. We also had a great group of champions at the Legislature on both sides of the political aisle and we are grateful for their support. I also want to give a special thanks to our Government Relations team. They were exceptional this year.”