I write in my Stephens Media Column today about the looming Medicaid shortfall the state has waiting to deal with just over the horizon to the tune of up to $400 million. Despite the effort of some Republicans to set aside $100 million of surplus funds now and the agreement from Democratic leaders that the problem is looming, the legislature went home today with the matter unfinished.
“Obviously the one that jumps out is the funds for Medicaid issue that is looming out there,” said Senate President Pro Temp Paul Bookout when asked today about the biggest issue that the legislature would have to deal with next year. “Obviously we have a crisis situation that is going to be coming. Obviously, DHS Director Selig has a lot of options that they are looking at doing with Medicaid reform and payment methods and so forth. That is already in the works. So that’s obviously one issue that is going to be very important that they are going to have to deal with.”
But both Bookout and House Speaker Robert Moore reiterated Gov. Beebe’s position that it is better not to tie up the funds and leave some flexibility.
“There is nothing to be gained by moving that money over for that one purpose when we simply don’t know how in the next 10 months things might change and there may be other priorities that need to be meet,” said Moore.
Bookout agreed saying not setting the funds aside was more cautious, pointing out that a natural disaster could come up that would require the use of surplus funds.
Not surprisingly, Sen. Jonathan Dismang (R-Beebe) who introduced the bill to set aside surplus funds for the projected Medicaid shortfall, had a different view.
“The (legislative) bodies are going to turn over probably about half of both chambers just because of term limits, so we are going to send out a $250 million to $400 million bill on the desk of the new members telling them to see what you can figure out,” said Dismang. “We have a whole lot of knowledge at both ends of each chamber that are leaving and I would have liked to have been able to use and start the process.”
“Hopefully enough of us are going to come back and put our heads together to make sure we do everything we can to take care of this crisis without raising taxes,” said Dismang.
Dismang said he was surprised to see his proposal be voted down in Joint Budget Committee largely along party lines and is not sure why that happened.
Talk Business editor Roby Brock has more on the subject at this link. You can watch video of Bookout’s and Dismang’s comments below.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUmG3a8OOoo]