Upon first impressions, Senate President Michael Lamoureux (R-Russellville) will strike you as the strong and silent type. He may be strong, but he’s not silent.
Part of his strength comes from his confidence to delegate responsibilities and share credit for legislative accomplishments. Lamoureux will lead the 35-member State Senate this fall and have a healthy majority of GOP votes – 21 to 14 – over Democrats. He'll be the first Republican to lead the Senate since the post-Civil War period.
“It’s almost the exact opposite of what we had last session with 20 Democrats and 15 Republicans. But the thing I think a lot of people overlook in the Senate is the power of the minority,” he said on this week's edition of Talk Business on Fox 16. “We’ll be working together on all important issues.”
Lamoureux, a 36-year old attorney and business owner, notes that the State Senate is headed into a period where there could be little turnover unless incumbents are defeated. There will be no term-limited senators until 2015 and then only two members will be ousted due to the term limits law.
For the upcoming session, Lamoureux sees a way to strike a deal on Medicaid reform and says he’ll be counting on Gov. Mike Beebe (D) to persuade the federal government to go along. Lamoureux doesn’t think there can be a “one size fits all” national Medicaid reform plan.
“My position is that if we can get an Arkansas plan, an Arkansas agreement — bi-partisan in the legislature with the cooperation of the Governor – we’re going to lean on him to sell it to the federal officials,” he says.
Details of that solution are still vague and unfolding. Lamoureux acknowledges that he's not interested in a short-term fix for Medicaid until it becomes the only option available.
“I think we have an obligation to look at what health care reform looks like in Arkansas for the next 10 or 20 years,” he says. “I think it will be very difficult to agree to add 250,000 people to our Medicaid rolls when there's currently close to 800,000 people on them right now without being able to tell the taxpayers how much of that we're going to be paying for.”
He could also see a scenario where lack of clarity from the feds on Medicaid reform leads to a shortened regular session coupled by a return special session strictly to focus on the Medicaid crisis.
“I really could see that. We're on a different timeline than the federal government,” says Lamoureux. “If those things aren't resolved at the federal level, we may have to do a short-term fix and come back and address long-term needs later on. I hope not, but that could happen.”
Despite his working relationship with Beebe and Senate Democrats, Lamoureux won’t be afraid to flex his muscles with the Governor. He says he’s not a fan of the trigger mechanism that Beebe has suggested to eliminate the final remains of the grocery tax.
“I'm not extremely supportive of the trigger mechanism the Governor rolled out, but I would like to see us continue to reduce the grocery tax,” said Lamoureux, who advocates a simpler, more straightforward approach. He sees bicameral support for the grocery tax cut and he sees the House taking the lead on potential income tax reform, while the Senate will probably push for targeted business tax cuts.
He said he wants to see tax reform that is bi-partisan and includes both chambers and the Governor.
On a final note, Lamoureux said he has asked Sen. Robert Thompson (D-Paragould) to chair the Senate's Lottery Oversight Committee. He's hoping that with many veterans in the State Senate, his chamber can hit the ground running on day one.
You can watch Sen. Lamoureux's full interview below.