state budget

With supplemental budget requests intended to adjust the 2021-22 state budget moving through the General Assembly, the Joint Budget Committee now turns its attention to its biggest job: writing the next fiscal year state budget.

Committee members on Tuesday heard from several individuals who sought spending on programs not under consideration in the state budget during a meeting, held once a year, designed to allow the public to comment on what they'd like to see in the spending plan. The hearing often draws people who already have a seat at the table: state employees represented by public unions; teachers, also represented by unions; oil and gas companies represented by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association or the Colorado Petroleum Institute; and, among other groups, environment advocates, such as the Colorado Public Interest Research Group.

One of the spending not under consideration deals with medical equipment.

Joshua Thompson of Ascent Respiratory Care told the committee the governor's office has turned a deaf ear to requests to hike reimbursement rates for durable medical equipment, including oxygen and ventilators, as well as respiratory therapists who work in patient homes. Thompson, who also represents the Colorado Association for Medical Equipment Services, was among several witnesses advocating for funding assistance for the durable medical equipment industry that provides services through Medicaid.

Those expenses, as well as the cost of personal protective equipment, have gone up during the pandemic, Thompson said. And while the state has received federal aid worth billions of dollars to deal with health care during the pandemic, the state has not increased reimbursement rates, which is putting the industry in a pinch, he said.

"We have been ignored and excluded," said Thompson, who asked for one-time relief funding equal to 10% of the total paid claims for durable medical equipment benefits the state paid for between March 6, 2020 and April 30, 2021. That funding would pay for higher personal protective equipment costs, as well as payroll and benefit costs for frontline workers, he said. 

"Please do not introduce this budget bill without finding some way to assist the durable medical equipment industry" so that it can continue to serve patients, he said. 

Home health care agencies also sought boosts in reimbursement rates related to the pandemic, to deal with higher costs from personal protective equipment  and staff shortages.

Attorney Zach Warkentin of Denver, who represents the entertainment industry, presented the committee with a novel idea: a tax credit for music. 

The pandemic has severely affected the Colorado music industry, he told the committee, with some economic estimates saying the state lost 10 years of growth within the music sector just in 2020. Attendance at "brick and mortar events" were hit particularly hard, with 87% job losses and 89% lost revenue, according to the estimates.  

He suggested that the state establish a tax incentive program, which he said would restore Colorado as a leader in the music industry. He told the committee that Pennsylvania and Louisiana already have tax incentives programs in place. Both are tied to entertainment events. 

School nurses, represented by Jessica Francois from the Colorado Association of School Nurses, advocated for an annual $1 million in funding for the school nurse grant program. School nurses have taken on greater responsibility during the pandemic, including youth mental health services, and additional funding would provide for more school nurses, she said.

Ean Thomas Tafoya of Green Latinos was among several individuals who advocated for the state to move to electrification of school bus fleets, as well as for down payment assistance to help people buy electric cars. He also advocated for "free and fair" public transit and for investment in public health tied to air pollution.

"We're tired of hearing stories from mothers about their children who are waking at night gasping for air," he told the committee. "'We can't breathe' means doubly for our communities."

Investing in public health through air quality and reducing air pollution is a "win-win for our economy and for the people of Colorado," Tafoya said.   

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