Wednesday, April 24, 2013

TOP STORY >> Projects will get funding by state

Leader senior staff writer

House Speaker Davy Carter (R-Cabot), Sen. Pro Temp-elect Jonathan Dismang (R-Beebe) and Rep. Mark Perry (D-Jacksonville) were on hand Tuesday to witness Gov. Mike Beebe sign the private-option healthcare insurance into law.

All three said they had not yet decided how to spend the general improvement funds allocated to them.

Perry, who in the past has channeled money to Reed’s Bridge Civil War historic site, the Jacksonville Senior Center and the Boys and Girls Club, will have $300,000 to allocate this year as a third-term representative. First- and second-term representatives are allocated $225,000, Perry said.

As a senator, Dismang will have $1 million.

Carter, who gets credit — or the blame — for orchestrating passage of the private-option bill sponsored by Rep. John Burris (R-Harrison), has been subject to speculation that he would seek the Republican nomination as governor in 2014.

Asked Tuesday after the signing ceremony whether he would run, Carter said, “I’m going to go home and get my mind clear.”

“But that’s not no,” he was asked.

“That was not no. I’m thinking about it,” Carter said.

Among those the governor singled out for their efforts in passing the private-option answer to Medicaid expansion — part of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act — were Carter, Dismang, Burris and Sen. Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux (R-Russellville), Sen. David Sanders (R-Little Rock), Sen. Paul Bookout (D-Jonesboro) and Sen. Larry Teague (D-Nashville).

He also said hard work by the Department of Human Services and the Department of Finance and Administration had made the private-option plan possible.

“They provided a ton of background and a ton of work,” Beebe said.

“This is a victory for all of us,” the governor said.

Beebe said he and legislative leaders met early and, instead of fighting over Medicaid expansion per se, they began to explore cracks in the law that eventually developed into the private-option plan.

“We knew in November that there was some potential…for a private option on a limited basis,” Beebe said.

He told Republican leaders he would fight for it with Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius in Washington if they would support it back home.

“My recollection is different than the governor’s,” Dismang said after the signing. “We were being presented with an all-or-nothing federal approach to extending Medicaid here in Arkansas and it was quite a journey to getting private option to put in those conservative principles we wanted in the law — no easy task.”

There was no way Republicans and some skittish Democrats were going to pull together a three-quarter super majority needed to expand Medicaid, but, with no major missteps, expanding health insurance coverage to 250,000 low-income Arkansans was possible.

It was passed last week by one vote in the Senate and two votes in the House.

“We didn’t have anything to spare,” Dismang said.

Of the $140 million in tax cuts, Beebe said he told lawmakers he couldn’t support that “unless we can pay for them.”

“Both of those leaders (Lamoureaux and Carter) provided extraordinary leadership,” the governor said.

Beebe said he believed the state can afford the $10 million in 2014 tax cuts and the $86 million cuts in 2015. “We can pay through Medicaid-option opportunities, creating savings in other areas,” he said.

“But they better be careful what they are doing in 2016,” Beebe warned. “If their assumptions aren’t right, they have about $40 million in tax cuts too much.”

Beebe said he accomplished everything he wanted to accomplish this session, but he didn’t get everything he wanted.

“They could take a lesson from this 1,000 miles away in Washington, D.C.,” he said of the bi-partisan effort.