Friday, January 11, 2013

TOP STORY >> Carter: Watch Medicaid spending

Leader senior staff writer

In many respects, Arkansas should be the envy of other states, with a balanced budget, and a $300 million surplus soon to grow to $700 million, House Speaker Davy Carter of Cabot told a full house at the Clinton School of Pubic Service at noon Friday.

Carter, the first Republican House speaker since 1871, summed up what he said was the biggest challenge facing the state — whether or not it could afford to expand its Medicaid coverage without draining the state budget.

Carter, who has just resigned as the division president of Centennial Bank in Cabot, said he hoped to build a cross-the-aisle coalition with Democrats to move the state forward, cooperating in a way not fashionable these days in Washington.

He said he re-signed from the bank to devote 110 percent of his time to his job as speaker, and brushed aside the suggestion that he is running for the Republican nomination as governor.

“Some day, Gov. Beebe will go down as one of the best, if not the best, governor in state history,” he said.

Carter said the state has many challenges, including improving education and infrastructure. But he feared that if the state adopted the new Medicaid track B, which he said would add more than 200,000 people to the state’s Medicaid rolls, there would not be enough money to address those other issues.

He said it was not a good thing that 35 percent of the people in the state are sufficiently poor as to qualify for Medicaid.

“I don’t have a monopoly on good ideas,” he said, adding that legislators would have to study the financial implications of adding to the Medicaid rolls.

The federal government would pay the additional costs at first, but that would be phased out, he said.

“We need to allocate capital to the areas of need that we want to see changed, but there is a finite amount of capital,” Carter said.

Policy makers will have to make hard choices about allocations to education and infrastructure, and with the General Assembly about to start up, “the time is getting closer,” he said.

In visiting with different people and groups around the state, “the conversation has always ended up with Medicaid.”

“What we do will affect everything,” he added. “I expect vigorous policy debates.”

“We will be accountable, we will be responsible and we will be receptive,” he said.

Carter said he loved Arkansas, citing its diversity in people, geography and economics.

“Arkansas is open for business,” he said.

In response to a question, Carter said the current term-limit law needs to be revisited.

“To elect someone in November and expect them to be an expert on all things by January is wrong,” he said. Carter says term limits are a good idea, but they need to be longer.