We had wide-ranging hour-long press briefings yesterday at the state Capitol, first jointly with House Speaker Davy Carter and Senate President Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux, and then with Gov. Mike Beebe, put on in a legislative committee room by the Associated Press Managing Editors Association.
Extensive news coverage has centered on the two Republican legislative leaders’ interest in avoiding the governor’s proposed cuts in existing Medicaid by plugging whatever sum from the state’s fairly generous surplus is needed, and then on the complications of how and whether to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to a quarter-million Arkansawyers making up to 138 percnet of the poverty level.
Beebe gave a very helpful instructional treatise on the Medicaid expansion issue that I will seek to replicate in my online-only column tomorow at arkansasonline.com/brummett. He also said, interestingly to me, essentially that no one was ever really serious about coping with the existing Medicaid shortfall by kicking anybody out of any nursing homes. But he said it wasn’t a tactic to pin Republicans in a corner. I remain unsure what it was.
Lamoureux said a Medicaid expansion compromise would be possible if the federal government hadn’t said states must take all or nothing of the expansion. He outlined a deal by which Republicans would get their drug-testing and copayments for Medicaid recipients and, in exchange, Medicaid would be expanded for a portion — a half, maybe — of the quarter-million.
Carter said he was fairly sure the federal government couldn’t afford to pay this full Medicaid expansion bill for three years and 90 percent or so thereafter, but that, actually, he was a state legislator and, as such, he was busy doing the math trying to figure out what was best for the state.
This is just me, OK? Nobody said this outright. But it seemed to me that Lamoureux and Carter understand that it’s probably best for the state — for hospitals, for poor people, for our budget — to do the expansion. But they have an Obama-hating right flank to deal with. Just me. They didn’t say it. I did.
Two other interesting items from the session.
Beebe said he’s not sure what is broken that needs fixing in regard to liberalizing our rules on charter schools, as will be sought by business-oriented would-be education reformers. He said we authorize plenty of charters now except when racial desegregation would be affected and that we yank them now when they don’t perform. He’s not sure what needs to be done to a system that seems to work. He also said more expansive school choice presents legal and financial obstacles and that, at this point, lawyers tell him we need either to have fully open statewide choice or no choice, because anything in between is fraught with legal and financial complication.
Carter said House members would like to “reform income tax rates.” I happen to know that this means lowering them. He is right that a top rate of 7 percent shouldn’t apply to everything in excess $35,000 or so in income. My answer to that would be to apply higher rates at higher levels. His is to roll back that top rate on the low side and raise the application level for the 7 percent. That takes money from the state treasury and gets in the way of the governor’s plan to continue his grocery tax drawdown.
I left thinking that Beebe, Carter and Lamoureux could work everything out, but worrying about those 133 others coming to town next week.