The consensus among Republican candidates in three Fort Smith legislative races is that the new federal health care bill will burden the state budget, but there was some variation in how to respond to that burden.
Republican candidates in Arkansas House District 63 and 64 and Senate District 13 races discussed the issue during a Monday (April 19) forum sponsored by the Fort Smith League of Women Voters. Because no Democrats filed for the District races, the GOP primary — or primary runoff — for each race will determine the holder of each seat.
The candidates also had varying answers as to the legislation they intended to push first if elected.
State Sen. Denny Altes, a candidate for the House District 63 seat, said Arkansas Insurance Department officials say it will be at least two years before ramifications of the new federal law kick in. Altes said Republicans may control Congress after the November elections.
The new federal law (H.R. 3590) will expand access to health insurance, reform the health insurance market to provide additional consumer protections, and improve the health care delivery system to reduce costs and produce better outcomes. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the coverage provisions in the bill will cost $848 billion over 10 years (fiscal years 2010-2019). However, the major provisions in the bill would not take effect until Jan. 1, 2014, meaning the bill uses 10 years of revenue to pay for six years of coverage. Also, the uninsured with a pre-existing condition can get insurance and will allow retirees maintain coverage.
“I think if the Red wave hits in November, it will be repealed,” Altes said.
However, most political watchers say it is statistically impossible for the Republicans to gain enough seats in the U.S. House and Senate to pass a repeal that will survive a veto by President Barack Obama.
Rep. Frank Glidewell, a candidate in the District 13 Senate race, said he has already sponsored a bill that would seek to exempt Arkansas from the federal bill.
Jake Files, a former member of the Arkansas House and a candidate for the District 13 seat, had a two-prong approach to deal with the $400 million the bill is estimated to cost Arkansas. First, he would seek an effort to allow Arkansas to opt out. If that fails, Files said he would seek budget cuts to find the money instead of raising taxes.
Jim Medley, also a former member of the Arkansas House and a District 13 Senate candidate, said he would ask Gov. Mike Beebe and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel to join the more than 16 other states who have said they will take the law to court. If the lawsuit fails, Medley said he would seek a 2% across the board budget cut to come up with the money the state will need to implement the new federal law.
Beebe and McDaniel are on record saying they will not join other states in a lawsuit challenging the new federal health care law.
Files was the first asked to respond to the question about legislation he would first push if elected. He said his intent is to file a package of bills that “would be immediately beneficial” to Arkansas’ economic developers. For example, he said, one of the bills would seek to balance state incentives offered for new jobs and investments. Files said he thinks the current law is tilted to heavily toward new jobs and investments compared to supporting existing business and industry.
Rep. Stephanie Malone has no specific legislation in mind, adding that she sees her job as a legislator as “beating the bad bills” rather than pushing new legislation.
Medley said he would help continue the push to reduce sales taxes on groceries and lower sales taxes on energy.
J.R. Dallas, a candidate in the House District 63 race, said his priorities are to reduce the state’s overall tax structure and “create an incentive” for business owners to reinvest in their business.
Glidewell said his first priority is to “stop Obama’s health care.” Other than that, he said he would help Malone kill bills.
“We’ve got enough laws,” Glidewell said.
Altes said he also would continue to push for lower taxes and push for a new law requiring stiffer reporting requirements on dangerous drugs. Altes said it is hard to cut taxes with Democrats in control of the Arkansas Legislature and the Governor’s office. However, the largest tax cuts in Arkansas history — reduction of sales tax on groceries from 6% to 2% — were part of the legislative package of Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, and Democratic legislative leaders of the previous two regular legislative sessions.
Fort Smith City Director Gary Campbell, who is running against Malone in the House District 64 race, said he is in the process of conducting “idea raisers” among district constituents. He said the most requested ideas would be used to develop a list of legislation. He said early efforts suggest economic development and education are areas were most citizens are requesting improvements.
State legislative candidates attending the forum were:
• Arkansas House District 63
Sen. Denny Altes
• Arkansas House District 64
Fort Smith City Director Gary Campbell
Rep. Stephanie Malone
• State Senate District 13
Rep. Frank Glidewell