Gov. Mike Beebe's communications director Matt DeCample was a guest on last week's edition of Talk Business to discuss the budget surplus and possible expansion of the state's Medicaid program.
DeCample said Beebe knows a looming $250-$400 million Medicaid budget shortfall could be the recipient of the bulk of a $191 million state surplus.
“I think everyone agrees the first call on that money is going to be on our suspected Medicaid shortfall,” DeCample said. “How much of it? We don't know that yet?”
DeCample said one-time higher education capital needs, the Quick Action Closing Fund used for economic recruiting, and repealing the rest of the grocery tax are likely priorities for Beebe's proposal to spend the surplus.
The grocery tax, which Beebe has successfully pared down to 1.5% with support from the General Assembly, is “on the forefront of his mind when you're talking about any potential tax cuts for the next session,” said DeCample.
“If he sees the window to do that and do it responsibly, sure he'll be looking at that.”
Despite the looming financial crisis in the state Medicaid program, Beebe is weighing taking advantage of the federal health care law's potential expansion of the program.
The feds will pay for 100% of new Medicaid patients for 3 years beginning in 2014. By 2020, states will have to pick up 10% of the tab, leaving the Medicaid program a 9-1 federal government match.
Republican lawmakers in Arkansas have voiced strong opposition to the expansion, in part as a means to halt full implementation of the federal health care law rule
d constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Beebe said earlier it would take “a pretty dang strong argument” to convince him not to take the new deal.
“He's not heard that argument to this point. His big concern, and the one he wants answered by the federal government, is once this gets fully implemented, if something happens in Arkansas, if we have some sort of economic calamity, are we locked in at the level we're at or can you scale things back to deal with whatever arises in the state?” said DeCample.
“It is a very good deal financially. It's a chance to get up to a quarter million additional Arkansans insured, take that burden off of uncompensated care and off of the rest of us who pay health insurance. So it is a very appealing possibility,” he added.
When asked if the issue become a defining issue in the fall elections – the difference between Republicans and Democrats in terms of what's good for Arkansas – DeCample said:
“It's a good question. There's a lot of polls in both directions out there right now. There's some that say people are still very fired up about this issue and have strong opinions one way or the other. You also have the Kaiser Family Foundation poll that came out this week that says more than half of the people they polled said we think the Supreme Court has decided this case and we're ready to talk about other things like the economy, like jobs, and the issues that people have thought the election will center around.”
You can watch our full interview below.