story by Maylon Rice, special to The City Wire
State Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, may have been the last one to speak at the Fayetteville Chamber’s Legislative Forum held Friday afternoon. But he didn’t mince any words.
“Medicaid extension (in Arkansas) is dead,” Collins said, interrupting one audience speaker, who asked about the most often talked about topic before and during the 89th General Assembly – Medicaid funding and expansion.
“By mid-week next week, I hope, well, I know, we will not have to hear and more about Medicaid expansion again,” Collins said.
Using most of his pre-question introductory period to expand on his “Rubik’s Cube” puzzle theory on the moving-partisan and moving parts of developing a state government budget, Collins wove in and out of the Medicaid debate.
The Rubik’s Cube was a 1970s game of a 3-D combination puzzle invented in 1974 by Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture Ernő Rubik. Considered to be the world's best-selling toy, it was a puzzle of twisting and turning rows of colored stickers until the six solid colors were all arranged on a single side of the cube.
“That game is like trying to solve and formulate the state’s budget,” Collins said.
OUTSIDE THE BOX THINKERS
He then lavished praise on all the forces in the session working often in closed door meetings to develop an “outside the box” formula for Arkansans who need Medicaid offerings. He indicated that the people who are covered by Medicaid would remain covered, but Arkansas might be doing something radically different and not putting the state at financial risk in the future. He gave credit by name to Sens. David Sanders, R-Little Rock; Jason Rapert, R-Conway; and Reps. John Burris, R-Harrison; David Meeks, R-Conway; and House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Conway, as leaders in thinking outside the box for a solution to fund Arkansas’ Medicaid shortfall.
After Collins pronounced Medicaid Expansion “dead,” Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, weighed in on the Medicaid issue, fearing for the state’s future.
“It is my concern we are about to drop into a system that is not cash flowing,” Hendren said. “And to expedite a decision now will only mean down the road that State General Revenues will have to be raided like never before to pay for Medicaid.”
Hendren said it was “To Arkansas’ benefit to have Constitutional protection against deficit spending (to fund such programs) unlike the federal government (does). We are all so happy that it has been said it is only $60 million which is still significant enough it might cause a shortfall on our G.I.F. monies.”
General Improvement Funds are budget funds in excess of appropriations that the 135 members of the General Assembly divvy up for local projects after all state obligations have been fulfilled.
STICKERS, STEEL MILLS
While Medicaid took up much of the hour long meeting, other topics were discussed.
Rep. David Whitaker, D-Fayetteville, explained his DUI Battery Bill, which will now allow persons charged with a DUI in which a passenger or other person was injured to allow the Prosecuting Attorney to add additional charges for injuries.
Whitaker also detailed a compromise with the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration license bureau to award two separate stickers for license plates for Vietnam era veterans. One sticker will acknowledge actual service in the Republic of Vietnam and the other a sticker for state-side or non-direct military service during the war.
Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, prior to Collins’ remarks about the death of Mediciad expansion simply said: “I expect the Medicaid conversation to ramp up in the weeks ahead.”
Leding also said recent revelations about the proposed Big River Steel Mill in Eastern Arkansas “has given us all some pause about it being the deal we first thought it was.”
Sen. Uvalde Lindsey, D-Fayetteville, said this was beginning to be a session where very little accord could be found. Detailing five different bills that came to the Personnel Committee, who approves new state hiring slots, Lindsey said proposal after proposal were either voted down or being “held by member privilege,” a tactic to delay the bill or cause the bill to be amended.