with Jimmy Sengenberger,Ken Summers,February 24, 2011

Station:   KCRX

Show: with Jimmy Sengenberger

Guest:     Summers


Date:      February 24, 2011-Part 1

Topics:    EPA, Regulations, Environment, Emissions, Climate Change, Obamacare, Unfunded Mandates, Medicare, Medicaid, Deficit

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(Representative Summers concludes his comments about the ambiguity of the extent that man-made factors influence climate change, and his assertion that natural factors probably have much more impact than man-made causes.)

JIMMY SENGENBERGER:  Right.  And I absolutely agree with you. But if you have something as complex as climate, and you’re predicting something like climate out well into the future–decades into the future– I think it’s misguided to pin it on one single thing. But of course a lot of politicians in this day and age, particularly from the Democratic Party but also some Republicans, are advocating strict regulations and restrictions such as cap and trade and other proposals to deal with the supposed problem–this supposed climate crisis. Has there been anything in this legislative session so far that’s come out specifically trying to address the supposed climate crisis?

KEN SUMMERS:  You know, I haven’t seen anything at this point. There may be something out there. I haven’t seen anything from the House side, you know, so I don’t know if there’s been anything on the Senate side that is purportedly related to this. One thing that does come to mind that is kind of interesting. The House just passed a bill that we anticipate will probably get killed in in the Senate dealing with, for example, let’s look at ozone and the issues. We have the emissions testing program that takes place with automobiles. And in recent years–as a matter of fact, in Weld and Larimer counties up north was just included in the containment zone, it’s refered to, that the EPA uses to monitor ozone levels. And we actually passed a bill that basically exempted them out but allowed flexibility for local communities auto emissions testing if they wanted to. One thing I found that was interesting, one of the testimonies on the scientific side–you know, right now it’s 70 ppm of ozone is kind of, what sensors monitor, and is the standard right now. The federal EPA is looking at changing that to 65 or 60. And if I remember right, somebody testified that if there were no cars whatsoever, ozone precursors would be, like, at 55. And so, there is even a problem with science relative to, you know, what is even a baseline of ozone through natural sources? And especially when it comes to automotive emissions … I remember when, a few years ago, when talking with the Department of Health you know, because I had constituents bring it up to me, saying “Ken, hasn’t this Enviro-test hassle run its course?” And as I checked into it, there were some good arguments for that in terms of the fact that, newer cars anyway, actually emit…. their emissions, what they meant from burning gasoline actually is less than the rates that the testing actually test for.

JS:  Mmm-hmm

KS: and so the emissions and pollution that comes from automotives… So what you have then, is older cars really are the ones that emit the greatest amount of pollution. And it’s negligible at best, you know. And what that means then, is a lot of pollution, a lot of air pollution comes from stationary sources–power plants and manufacturing plants, things of that nature. And so, you know, a lot of effort has taken place there, in Weld County, for example. The oil and gas industry has spent literally millions of dollars to make sure that even the pollution sources from their equipment is minimal. And so it creates some real issues for us. But, if the EPA keeps kind of imposing unrealistic standards, it just becomes more problematic.

JS:  yeah well, the EPA has this idea like on going back climate change, or on ozone, or on a lot of these other issues, that they can unilaterally mandate, say, a cap and trade system. They’ve been looking at doing carbon emissions regulations.  And I have an article here that talks about the U.S. House trying to put a stop to that.  I’m not sure how much good that efforts will do, but at least they’re trying. They do have this top-down management that comes from the EPA and which thinks that, okay, we can stick our nose into state business for virtually any environmental problem that we see fit. We need to go to the states and say, “to heck with states rights. To heck with state regulatory systems. We are going to mandate something top-down from the federal government.” Is that… You are describing that in terms of ozone. Are there other areas where it comes in, where you are really fighting up against federal interference when it comes to environmental issues, in particular, that way?

KS: you know, I think there are several that come into play. You know, some of those are around pollution. Some of those involve water pollution, you know, for example. And so you have construction sites that have water run-off, and there are certain regulations. I haven’t seen the bill yet, but for example, there was some concern about water quality coming off of construction sites that was basically going into a river or to drain system that eventually ended up in a water treatment plant. And then it would have required these water treatment plants to, you know, instill certain pieces of equipment to ensure that the various particles and contaminants were not in the water. And part of the problem, you know Jimmy, is you get down to it and these are so minute particles it becomes kind of academic, at most, in terms of, is it really making a difference.  What is the … Is there really a health and safety issue here?  And what’s the bottom line we’re trying to get to?

JS:  well, it’s sort of like what you were talking about with climate change for example. And what is primarily responsible for climate change? If we were to eliminate altogether our carbon footprint in the United States, the impact on carbon emissions and the impact that has on the climate, on the environment, is absolutely miniscule when you are up against India and China. So one of the things that I find, when we’re talking regulation at the state, or even moreso at the federal level, is that you often have government making these decisions for private industry that put added costs on consumers  as individuals and on to those businesses, as well, and  who, by the way, tend to pass those costs on to individuals, and that’s dispruptive to their ability to be productive as citizens and as enterprises, as the firms that comprise our nation it is’s and our state’s economy, but it’s more problematic.  Like when the government steps in and says, “Okay, we’re going to set this lofty goal, we’re going to make these lofty regulations, and oh, by the way, your costs are just going to have to go up and you’re just going to have to deal with it. What do you think it?

KS:  you know, and as you share that trail and that dilemma, what comes to my mind more than anything is government seems to be great at trying to address problems that create more problems that government addresses so that you create more problems.  I mean

JS:  Well put!

KS:  Government is the best at ensuring that it always has something to do because, you know, if it there aren’t problems… you know, when government starts sticking its nose into various areas of our life and business and personal freedoms and so forth, like that, it seems like one thing leads to something else which leads to something else which creates a law or a new regulation or a new enforcement mechanism, and uh…

JS:  And then it doesn’t go away

KS: …and it doesn’t go away.  Yeah.  No, absolutely.  It’s job security, I guess, for government.

JS:  yes… Well, Ronald Reagan had a phrase.  I’ve often quoted on this program.  He said, “The nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on Earth is a government program.

KS:  Yeah, absolutely.

JS:  Now, as a final question before we go to a break with State Representative Ken Summers, um, at the federal level you have massive expansions of government programs and so forth that stay in place. And also, of course, thefederal government doesn’t have the same kind of budgetary restrictions that states like Colorado have.  Do we see that problem take place a lot on the state level, or is it less prominent?

KS:  You know, I think it’s less prominent on the state level. But I find myself somewhat amazed at even trying to understand the intricacies of government, government departments, quasi-government organizations and how they all work together.  Its, you know… as a legislator, you are constantly trying to figure out who does what and with who, and really, where is duplication, where is complimentary activity taking place and… You know, we’ll have a presentation to a committee, and I’ll think, “I didn’t really realize you were doing that.  I didn’t realize that this department existed, or this function existed that either requires state resources, or the involvement of the state department in some form or fashion.”  And one of those… you know, for example, right now, when it comes to the issue of healthcare.  You know, right now, we have essentially two at-risk healthcare funding mechanisms, kind of safety net insurance programs.  One is called Cover Colorado, which has been in existence for a number of years, and it’s primarily for providing insurance for those that are uninsurable because of the nature of their pre-existing medical conditions.

JS:  Right…

KS:  But with the introduction of some legislation in Colorado, (inaudible) Colorado Affordable Care Act and the Federal Affordable Care Act, we have another kind of high risk insurance pool called Getting Us Covered.  And they’re very close, very similar.  Matter of fact, we have received… I think I looked this up, we have something like 90 million dollars of funding for this program that is going to provide coverage for those that need insurance, who are uninsurable.  And to be honest, I don’t think it’s even getting utilized that much, because we have two programs that, on the margins, address the same populations.

JS:  … They could be consolidated.

KS:  Yeah.

(End transcription at 23:00)

(Resume transcription at 25:30)

JS:  When we broke, we were talking about healthcare a little bit and what I’m curious about is the extent to which  we can expect the Obamacare legislation, starting now but starting especially in 2014, to kind of hit against
Colorado.  For instance with Medicaid eligibility expansions, and with some other things that are required of the state—the exchanges and so forth.  What insights can you give us as to how that new federal law will impact state government here?

KS:  Yeah.  You know, it’s really going have a significant impact, and we’re already in the midst of implementing some expanded eligibility under state law that is related to Medicaid coverage.  And that creates some real challenges for us.  We have, in Colorado, instituted a bill that is refered to as the Hospital Provider Fee, or some refer to it as the Hospital Bed Tax.  You know, somewhat controversial from a political standpoint, it has basically provided…. You see, what happened is that hospitals went in and said, “Look, to help with the expansion of Medicaid eligibility, and to try to leverage some federal dollars, we’ll put up a dollar per bed per day, and we’ll kind of put it in this fund, and we’ll draw down this federal match, and then we’ll redistribute it to hospitals based on their Medicaid caseload.”

JS:  mmm-hmm

KS:  And so that problem… that bill has been in place.  It has been helpful in that it has provided a higher reimbursement rate to hospitals for Medicaid patients, and Medicaid populations.  You know from that standpoint..,..  But as it increases eligibility, it doesn’t necessarily fully fund all of the ioncreased costs for expanded eligibility for services outside of hospitalization.  And so this is a significant issue, that the Medicaid budget and the increased eligibility for Medicaid is one of the most, if not THE most significant issue that is driving state budgets.  And it’s because with the down economy, more people qualify for Medicaid, and at the same time, as you’re expanding eligibility for Medicaid it creates a very trying situation fianancially.

JS:  And just to clarify, Medicaid eligibility under Obamacare will go up to 133%, but that begins in 2014, or has it already begun?

KS:  You know, that begins in 2014, and also, what it does in 2014 that is different now, is it allows … Right now,  all adults qualify for Medicaid benefits if they have a child, basically, that qualifies.  And in 2014, with the expanded eligibility requirements, then all adults, regardless of family structure, would be able to qualify for Medicaid benefits.

JS:    And that’s a good point. Now the fiscal impact on Colorado – do we have any idea what that Medicaid eligibility impact will be here ?  I know in Florida and in Texas it’s going to hit hard. But then there are some states that it ends up … a few, a handful, where it ends up working out better for them just because of the amount that the federal government will still take on, and that sort of thing.  Do we have any idea yet on the fiscal impact?

KS:  You know, there have been some projections out there that have been made.   I don’t know all of the numbers off the top of my head, but it is something that is under constant evaluation and analysis in terms of what that full impact is going to be.  And our economists do have some projections on that, but it very significant. And it’s a big issue especially when you … you know, right now, and this is …with the federal deficit and when you look at the Affordable Care Act and the National Healthcare Act, you know, it is just going to continue to cost, you know, more money to fund.  It’s going to cost businesses and individuals more.  And you know, it just very scary, especially in the fact that a lot of the regulations have not been defined.  We’re playing this game, and we’re playing the game while we’re writing the rule book. That’s kind of the situation that we find ourselves in.  So it’s very problematic from that standpoint.

JS:  Yeah, that’s an interesting analogy – playing the game while you’re writing the rule book.  I think that’s an accurate one, too, because that is exactly what’s going on – is where the federal government is working on these sorts of things, and then you just have to play along as the things progress.  The unfortunate fact of the matter is that when you’re talking about healthcare or other pieces of legislation, increasingly over the years, the federal government has been content to just tell states to do things.  We could talk education, we were talking environment, we’re talking healthcare.  They just expect that states somehow could magically pull out all of the money, like a rabbit out of the hat, and then go ahead and fund all of these unfunded mandates, all of these programs that the government pushes on them.  But states like Colorado are already squeezed.

KS: Yeah.  Absolutely.  And so we constantly deal with… and education is a good example of dealing with what is typically refered to as unfunded mandates.  And it kind of, um…we have… the states have unfunded mandates from the federal government.  It seems like often times, you know, the states push unfunded mandates down to school districts or to counties, or local governments because of various laws that are passed.  And it becomes a real challenge from that standpoint.  And then the converse of that, is that states, as mandates come down and their looking for avenues by which to comply with these federal requirements, for example in healthcare, then the states say, “Okay, how can we leverage federal dollars to help fund these programs.”  And, you know, once again then,  we’re going, “they don’t have the money. They don’t really have the resources, or they’re manufacturing resources, so we continue to get back into this cycle of just, you know, creating more federal debt.

JS:  Now, in Colorado, we’re facing a rather striking budget shortfall.  What’s going on there in terms of the fiscal situation of this state?  And then I want to tread over to Wisconsin, in a moment, but as far as Colorado’s concerned, what’s our state of affairs here?

KS:  Yeah, you know, compared to some other states, I think one thing that is important for everybody to understand, what we’re dealing with is, in this economy, in this historic time of recession, it’s impacting the entire country and in a lot of places, far worse than in Colorado.  You know, we’ve heard of some of the challenges that Califonia’s had, for example, and we see the issues taking place in Wisconsin and other states.  We realize that their budget deficit  is multiplied compared to Colorado’s.  And Colorado, we’re looking at somewhere between maybe like a 1.2,  1.4 billion dollar shortfall, as we plan for budget year 2011-2012.  And that is, you know, obviously for us, with an overall state budget of around 19 billion dollars, that is very significant for us.  And so the challenges are great, the cuts are going to be significant. I would say that by the time we have a budget adopted, before this  legislative session comes to an end, I think one thing you can say is that, across the board, everybody’s going to be upset because everybody wants the budget balanced.  They just don’t want their program to suffer.

JS:  Exactly.  Someone’s ox is going to get gored, no matter how you slice it.

KS:  Absolutely.

JS:  And we clearly see that over in Madison, Wisconsin, and the stuff going on there is just…  It just keeps on getting crazier and crazier….

(End Transcript at 33:47)