The debates begin

guest commentary from Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith
Editor’s note: Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, has agreed to provide regular reports on actions and events of the 2013 General Assembly. FIles was elected to the Arkansas Senate in 2010 and was elected in 2012 to serve District 8, which comprises a large portion of Sebastian County. Files is the first GOP chairman of the Senate Revenue & Tax committee since Reconstruction. He also serves on the Transportation & Technology Committee, Joint Budget Committee, and Senate Efficiency. He can be reached at jakefiles@me.com

Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.

• Senate Report: Week 1 review
If pomp and circumstance is appealing to you, then the first couple of days of the Session would be quite exciting. There are grand gestures of sending “committees” of Senators and Representatives to beckon the Supreme Court Justice to come and deliver oaths of office and to notify the Governor that the Senate is “ready for business.”

I am not sure when all of this was concocted but a simple email or text these days would surely suffice. That concluded day one with the swearing in of all the members of both chambers and the beginning of getting some work done.

Day two was set aside for Gov. Mike Beebe to deliver his State of the State address and outline his proposals and vision for this Session, which he did. The Governor delivered a great speech, as he usually does, and hit upon the expected themes of continuing to improve education, lowering the grocery tax further, and expanding Medicaid, among other topics.

He also talked of how he loved the legislative process, as he had been a part of it for more than 30 years, and how he respected the individual members and chambers and the perspective they bring.

Another important point was how he did not expect “DC Politics” to “poison our capitol,” which I completely agree with him on, and I don’t expect to happen. I think at the end of the day, elected officials in Little Rock are trying to do what is right by their constituents. That involves factoring out a lot of noise, which is not always easy, but is certainly in the job description of putting your name on a ballot every few years.

The points of the speech that I would question are not any different than what many of you would ask if seated across from the Governor in a conversation.

How do we improve our education to a point where we have more kids equipped for life and more people graduating from college? I would hope this answer would not involve money but be more philosophical in nature. Some of this answer involving graduation may deal with how we spend Lottery Scholarship proceeds. Are those being put to best use? I think a one-size fits all approach is probably not what yields us the best returns, and I have heard some proposals to correct this or at least attempt to. I expect this to get some discussion later in the Session along with several education-related philosophical debates.

Another pertinent question relates to Medicaid and the expansion. While the Medicaid shortfall is dominating discussions now, the expansion is not far behind. There are many factions who have staked a claim on many different sides of this discussion. Pragmatic Republicans have asked if there is a way to take the money and still control the outcome. Many Democrats have said we are turning our backs on people in need if we don’t take the money regardless of the outcomes.

There are still a lot of details to be gathered. The question in my mind is a simple one: How can the Federal government, who has lots of its own monetary problems, tell us with 100% certainty what our obligation will be and when can they determine that said obligation?

As of now, metaphorically speaking, they have shown us the pretty picture of the new house and said we can move in with no payments for 3 years. But to follow that, they can’t exactly tell us what our payments will be

 As a secondary question, with our federal debt climbing, what if our (national) credit rating is downgraded, and the feds are pushed to make some drastic changes in the programs they have matching state dollars? What do we do with the new Medicaid recipients at that point? Do we raise taxes? Do we take them back off the plan?

You see the dilemma. Way too many questions and not enough answers at this point in the game lends itself to a slow-down approach for all parties involved.

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By the end of the week, it was more hectic than I remembered past first weeks being. There were many issues being discussed, which is good, and many good debates being formed.

In a new world of true two-party balance, I know I will not be on the winning side of every debate, and that is part of life. I also know that the fact the debates are happening mean that more information will be on the table, more people will be involved, and hopefully, better outcomes and decisions will be made.

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