2012 Budget Session–Politics as Usual

by Christine Keller

The budget battle is underway in Little Rock.  With conservatives outnumbered, it is difficult to make the necessary cuts. Medicaid officials report that Arkansas is facing a budget shortfall next year of between $200 and $400 MILLION, from Medicaid alone!  It looks as if Little Rock is spending our money as fast as Washington, D.C. is.  The blog post below from Mark Moore explains it well.  One conservative state rep. tells us that last year tea partiers flooded the Capitol with “pink slips” (referring to the phone messages that they bring in to your representatives when you call the Capitol switchboard), but this year there aren’t very many.  They tell us that those pink slips really make a difference. The session ends March 9, so there is not much time left.

Put these two numbers in your cell phone and call as soon as you get a chance next week:  501-682-6211 (AR House) and 501-682-2902 (AR Senate).  Tell the operator that you want to send a message to your state rep/senator:  “Cut the spending.”  A messenger will take your message directly to your represenative and senator, and it gets their attention when a lot of those messages come in.  Let them know we want them to have a backbone and do everything in their power to cut spending!

Mark Moore’s blog (click here to read it online.  Please share with your friends.)  (Take a look at the proposed budgets he mentions for yourself.):

We are all gonna die! I’m not talking about someday. I mean the very moment a single penny of the proposed spending increase is cut from  Governor Mike Beebe’s budget. At least that’s the impression I get from  listening to the shrill histrionics of the Governor’s front men.

What  brought all this on is that the Republicans in the state legislature had the  nerve to propose their own budget rather than simply accepting the one offered  by the Governor as a jumping off point. You may recall from last week that the  real leverage a minority party has under the rules of our state constitution is  in accepting the initial stabilization budget. It requires a super-majority to  pass. Once it is passed, it can be amended by simple majority. The Democrats  wanted them to give approval to a shell bill that they can fill in the details  on later. The Republicans decided they were not ready to do that.

You can  rest assured than neither budget reduces the spending of our state government.  The Republican plan spends 21 million dollars less than Gov. Beebe’s proposed  plan, but both are higher than current levels. In addition, it is plain as day  that this state is going to face a massive shortfall in Medicaid funding in two  years. We will probably need $200 million dollars if we are going to maintain  that program’s benefits. That’s because medical costs are growing and the number  of poor using the services are growing.

With a predictable need of $200  million in two years, one would think that the adults would propose a $100  million reduction in spending this year and an equal reduction in spending next  year. Instead, one side is talking about increasing spending a great deal and  the other says that we should spend $21 million dollars less. Even if revenues  met expectations and the Governor’s budget was fully funded in taxes, the  reductions proposed by the Republicans are barely over one fifth the amount  needed to stave off an “emergency” tax increase.

That’s where all this  is heading. In a year or two they will say that no one could have seen this  increase in Medicaid outlays coming, and that if we don’t agree to an immediate  tax increase then poor children will die in the streets. There will be no time  to talk about it, by golly, it’s an emergency. The pattern repeats itself. Big  spending politicians set us up for another tax increase by hiding behind sick  children instead of altering fiscal course while there is still time.

Why  even the proposed $21 million reduction in the increase is being met with  predictions of doom. The Republican plan proposed a 3% reduction in a category  called “miscellaneous” government programs which would amount to around  $230,000. There are a lot of places Beebe could cut within that category. What  he is doing is pretending he has to cut it all out of law enforcement. Then  intermediaries like Baxter County Sheriff Tom Montgomery chat up how  “devastating” these cuts will be to police protection. Montgomery is a  Republican so the problem is bipartisan.

The truth is not one dollar has  to be cut from police under the proposed plan. Three percent had to be cut  somewhere, and Beebe just decided to float the idea that it would all be taken  from police in order to scare people.

That’s the way politicians do when  faced with the prospect of cuts. They never say, “If I don’t get more money I  will have to lay off my idiot cousin from Parks and Recreation.” They always say  that the police force will have to go, along with the fire department. Remember,  if they can’t spend more money every year, then we are all gonna die!