Connect with us

In Case You Missed It

Medicaid Becomes Political Football

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

 

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

House Republican leaders who wanted to raise taxes, including Ways & Means Chairman Steve Clouse and Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn). The leadership was forced to negotiate with the far right of their own caucus who want no tax increases of any kind, and the Bentley administration, who wanted a fantasy number in excess of $300 million.

The leadership hoped to cobble enough moderate Republicans together that with Democrat votes they could pass a State General Fund (SGF) budget with $173 million more for the general fund than the so-called austerity budget that passed the legislature in the regular session; but was vetoed by Governor Robert Bentley. The proposed $1.79 billion budget would still have been a far cry from the $1.9+ billion SGF budget that Governor Bentley wanted but would have fully funded Medicaid, Corrections, Prison reform, Mental Health, State Troopers, and the courts.  Other agencies would have taken a modest 5.5 percent across the board cut.

Somewhere along the line, the leadership were led to believe that Alabama Democrats were willing partners in plans to raise taxes on the people of Alabama. Those illusions were ended late on Monday when the House Black Democratic Caucus met and voted to support no new taxes. With a growing conservative GOP rebellion and with Democrats adopting positions outflanking the GOP from the right there was no way that the leadership could pass Monday’s Clause plan without Democratic help.

On Tuesday, the leadership responded to that move, which they viewed as a betrayal, by joining forces with their own growing Republican right to punish the Democrats by deeply cutting the Democrat’s prized Lyndon Johnson era “Great Society” program: Alabama Medicaid. The General Fund budget that unexpectedly came out of committee in the House cuts Alabama Medicaid by $156 million. Since the Federal government matches State dollars, that could amount to over $550 million in total cuts to the program, which provides healthcare benefits to poor children, pregnant mothers, families, and the indigent elderly.

ADVERTISEMENT

State Representative Tim Wadsworth (R-Winston County) said on Facebook, “In a tense House Ways and Means committee meeting, committee votes to defund Medicaid by $150,000,000 and passes a budget with Medicaid defunded.”

Medicaid, however, has always been the problem in the SGF.

A poor economy means less jobs and more people qualifying, especially the newly disabled, for the program.  As the amount of Alabamians qualifying for the program has soared the cost of the program has soared with it, eating up a larger and larger share of the SGF.

Rep. Wadsworth wrote, “Medical spending from Federal and State funding not counting funding from private health insurance policies was 3.4 billion dollars 9 years ago and last year it rose to 5.2 billion dollars. The upward spiral of healthcare costs charged by doctors, hospitals, nursing homes and drug companies has created havoc in the General Fund Budget.”

Public Service Announcement

The House Minority Leader’s Chief of Staff Lance Latham told the Alabama Political Reporter, “It has come to my attention that some Republicans are claiming that they had a deal with Democrats to support their tax package and that the Democrats didn’t honor that commitment, which is why they came with the budget that cuts Medicaid. Let me state on the record, and please feel free to quote me, that no such agreement ever took place or was even discussed. The Democrats’ position has always been that they would not consider ANY tax increases without a commitment to expand Medicaid and let the people vote on a lottery.”

The Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus Dario Melton (D-Selma) said in a statement, “It’s appalling that House Republicans are spending time on a bill to pull $156 million out of our Medicaid fund when we’re already passing up billions in federal dollars through Medicaid expansion. With the matching federal funds we’ll lose from these budget cuts, our rural hospitals will surely need life-support. That will impact all Alabamians, not just those who depend on Medicaid services. We’ve already seen a dozen hospitals close or planning to close their doors because of these budget cuts–that means everyone in the community, those with Blue Cross and those on Medicaid and Medicare will have to drive further for services, and the hospitals in major metro areas will become crowded and more difficult to get treatment. This is an irresponsible piece of legislation and it’s wrong for the state of Alabama.”

House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) said in his own statement, ““There’s a lot to be concerned about after today’s meetings. We can’t divert money out of the Education Trust Fund and have a guarantee that those funds will be replaced. The Senate Republican leadership has already suggested they will not put the money back after they take it out. And taking $156 million out of Medicaid would be a disaster for doctor, hospitals and patients, most of whom are children. In 136 years of Democrats leading the state, we never had these kinds of problems. If we had expanded Medicaid or passed a lottery in any previous year, we would not be in this mess now. Instead of raising taxes, we should let the people vote on a lottery so we won’t be right back in this mess next year.”

Speaker Hubbard told the ‘Alabama Political Reporter’ that gaming legislation would be a waste of time.

Governor Bentley told Al.com writer Chuck Dean in a news conference, “I am disappointed, very disappointed with the Legislature.”

There are seven days left in this special session; but it already appears that Bentley’s $302 million fantasy tax plan is all but dead and that the House wants to balance the budget by raiding Medicaid; while the Senate by raiding the Education Trust Fund. Some insiders speculate that this Special Session has been a waste of time and a next special session is virtually inevitable.

Both Houses of the Alabama Legislature passed a $1.62 billion SGF budget in the regular session; but Gov. Bentley vetoed it, creating the present chaos.

 

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

Advertisement

In Case You Missed It

Tuberville calls for term limits, balanced budget and lobbying reform

Tuberville has also made a major media buy across the state to trumpet this message.

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

Republican Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville (TUBERVILLE CAMPAIGN)

Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville’s campaign began emphasizing key structural reforms that the Republican nominee hopes to advance if elected to the U.S. Senate including congressional term limits, withholding lawmakers’ paychecks unless a balanced budget is passed and a ban on former officials becoming lobbyists.

“Only an outsider like me can help President Trump drain the Swamp, and any of the proposals outlined in this ad will begin the process of pulling the plug,” Tuberville said in a statement. “Doug Jones has had his chance, and he failed our state, so now it’s time to elect a senator who will work to fundamentally change the way that Washington operates.”

Tuberville has also made a major media buy across the state to trumpet this message.

“You know Washington politicians could learn a lot from the folks in small town Alabama, but Doug Jones … he’s too liberal to teach them,” Tuberville added.

Polls consistently show that term limits are popular with people across both political parties, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that imposing term limits would be adding a qualification to be a member of Congress and that can only be done by constitutional amendment.

It is an unspoken truth that when Americans send someone to Congress they never come back. They either keep getting re-elected like Alabama’s own Sen. Richard Shelby, who is in his sixth term in the Senate after four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. On the other hand, they may become lobbyists getting paid to influence their colleagues on behalf of corporations, foreign governments or some well funded non-government organization.

ADVERTISEMENT

Tuberville said he would ban that practice.

A balanced budget amendment almost passed in the 1980s and again in the 1990s.

Since that failure, Congress has increasingly passed bigger and bigger budget deficits. The U.S. government borrowed more money during the eight years of President George W. Bush’s presidency than the government had borrowed in the first 224 years of the country combined.

President Barack Obama followed and the TARP program propped up the post-Great Recession economy. Rather than cutting the deficit, President Donald Trump invested billions in the military and a tax cut without cutting domestic spending. The 2020 coronavirus crisis has further grown the budget.

Public Service Announcement

The government has borrowed trillions to prop up the economy and provide stimulus while investing billions into medical research and treating the virus victims. Congress is currently debating a fifth stimulus package that would add more to the deficit.

Both a balanced budget amendment and a term limits amendment would have to be ratified by the states if passed by Congress. Tuberville is challenging incumbent Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama.

Continue Reading

In Case You Missed It

House passes General Fund Budget

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama House of Representatives passed the state General Fund Budget on Tuesday.

The General Fund Budget for the 2019 fiscal year is Senate Bill 178. It is sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose. State Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, carried the budget on the House floor. Clouse chairs the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee.

Clouse said, “Last year we monetized the BP settlement money and held over $97 million to this year.”

Clouse said that the state is still trying to come up with a solution to the federal lawsuit over the state prisons. The Governor’s Office has made some progress after she took over from Gov. Robert Bentley. The supplemental we just passed added $30 million to prisons.

The budget adds $50 million to the Department of Corrections.

ADVERTISEMENT

Clouse said that the budget increased the money for prisons by $55,680,000 and includes $4.8 million to buy the privately-owned prison facility in Perry County.

Clouse said that the budget raises funding for the judicial system and raises the appropriation for the Forensic Sciences to $11.7 million.

The House passed a committee substitute so the Senate is either going to have to concur with the changes made by the House or a conference committee will have to be appointed. Clouse told reporters that he hoped that it did not have to go to conference.

Clouse said that the budget had added $860,000 to hire more Juvenile Probation Officers. After talking to officials with the court system that was cut in half in the amendment. The amendment also includes some wording the arbiters in the court lawsuit think we need.

Public Service Announcement

The state General Fund Budget, SB178, passed 98-1.

Both budgets have now passed the Alabama House of Representatives.

The 2019 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, 2018.

In addition to the SGF, the House also passed a supplemental appropriation for the current 2018 budget year. SB175 is also sponsored by Pittman and was carried by Clouse on the floor of the House.

SB175 includes $30 million in additional 2018 money for the Department of Corrections. The Departmental Emergency Fund, the Examiners of Public Accounts, the Insurance Department and Forensic Sciences received additional money.

Clouse said, “We knew dealing with the federal lawsuit was going to be expensive. We are adding $80 million to the Department of Corrections.”

State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow, R-Red Bay, said that state Department of Forensics was cut from $14 million to $9 million. “Why are we adding money for DA and courts if we don’t have money for forensics to provide evidence? if there is any agency in law enforcement or the court system that should be funded it is Forensics.”

The supplemental 2018 appropriation passed 80 to 1.

The House also passed SB203. It was sponsored by Pittman and was carried in the House by State Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton. It raises securities and registration fees for agents and investment advisors. It increases the filing fees for certain management investment companies. Johnson said that those fees had not been adjusted since 2009.

The House also passed SB176, which is an annual appropriation for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The bill requires that the agency have an operations plan, audited financial statement, and quarterly and end of year reports. SB176 is sponsored by Pittman and was carried on the House floor by State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatham.

The House passed Senate Bill 185 which gives state employees a cost of living increase in the 2019 budget beginning on October 1. It was sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville and was being carried on the House floor by state Rep. Dimitri Polizos, R-Montgomery.

Polizos said that this was the first raise for non-education state employees in nine years. It is a 3 percent raise.

SB185 passed 101-0.

Senate Bill 215 gives retired state employees a one time bonus check. SB215 is sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville.

Rich said that retired employees will get a bonus $1  for every month that they worked for the state. For employees who retired with 25 years of service that will be a $300 one time bonus. A 20-year retiree would get $240 and a 35-year employee would get $420.

SB215 passed the House 87-0.

The House passed Senate Bill 231, which is the appropriation bill increase amount to the Emergency Forest Fire and Insect and Disease Fund. SB231 is sponsored by Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette.

State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chathom, said, “Thank you for bringing this bill my district is full of trees and you never know when a forest fire will hit.

SB231 passed 87-2.

The state of Alabama is unique among the states in that most of the money is earmarked for specific purposes allowing the Legislature little year-to-year flexibility in moving funds around.

The SGF includes appropriations for the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the courts, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Department of Corrections, mental health, and most state agencies that are no education related. The Alabama Department of Transportation gets their funding mostly from state fuel taxes.

The Legislature also gives ALEA a portion of the gas taxes. K-12 education, the two year college system, and all the universities get their state support from the education trust fund (ETF) budget. There are also billions of dollars in revenue that are earmarked for a variety of purposes that does not show up in the SGF or ETF budgets.

Examples of that include the Public Service Commission, which collects utility taxes from the industries that it regulates. The PSC is supported entirely by its own revenue streams and contributes $13 million to the SGF. The Secretary of State’s Office is entirely funded by its corporate filing and other fees and gets no SGF appropriation.

Clouse warned reporters that part of the reason this budget had so much money was due to the BP oil spill settlement that provided money for the 2018 budget and $97 million for the 2019 budget. Clouse said they elected to make a $13 million repayment to the Alabama Trust fund that was not due until 2020 but that is all that was held over for 2020.

Clouse predicted that the Legislature will have to make some hard decisions about revenue in next year’s session.

 

Continue Reading

In Case You Missed It

Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday

Sam Mattison

Published

on

By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

The day care bill, which would license certain day care centers in Alabama, was once again delayed on the state Senate floor after one lawmaker requested more information.

Its brief appearance Tuesday ended with state Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, saying a compromise had not yet been worked out with the bill’s detractors.

Alabama’s Senate has been hesitant to act on the legislation because of complaints of state Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, who has been an opponent of the bill since its introduction last year. The bill’s delay on Tuesday marks the second time its been taken off the Senate’s agenda.

The bill has had a rocky time in this year’s session, but the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said she is still confident about its passage out of the Legislature.

Warren, D-Tuskegee, filed the bill this session with the support of influential lawmakers including Gov. Kay Ivey, who told reporters last year that she though all day cares should be licensed.

ADVERTISEMENT

Mainly sparked by the death of 5-year-old boy in the care of a unlicensed day care worker, the bill had great momentum coming into this year’ session.

Despite the growing support from lawmakers, Religious groups had concerns that the bill would increase state-sponsored reach into religious day cares in churches and non-profit groups.

Spearheading the dissenters was Alabama Citizens Action Program, a conservative religious-based PAC.

Warren, proponents, and ALCAP announced a compromise to the bill while it was still in the Alabama House.

Public Service Announcement

Announced by ALCAP originally, the new bill was a weaker version in that it did not require that all day cares in the state be regulated. Instead, religious-based day cares would only need to be registered if they received federal funds. At a Senate committee meeting in February, Warren said a similar requirement was about to come from federal law in Congress.

The bill moved through the House in a overwhelming vote in favor of the proposal and passed unanimously out of a Senate committee a few weeks ago.

Warren, speaking to reporters after its passage from the House, said she was unsure if the bill would encounter resistance in the upper chamber.

It was the Senate that killed the daycare bill last year amid a cramped last day where senators took the bill off the floor. The bill may face similar complications this year, as lawmakers seem to be preparing to adjourn within a few weeks.

Continue Reading

In Case You Missed It

Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor

Sam Mattison

Published

on

By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

Would-be Fantasy Sports players in Alabama will have to wait to legally play in the state following a Senate vote on Tuesday.

The Alabama Senate decisively killed a bill to exempt fantasy sports from the state’s prohibition on gambling.

Not even entertaining a debate on the Senate floor, the proposal was killed during a vote for the Budget Isolation Resolution, which is usually a formality vote preluding a debate.

Fantasy sports are contests where participants select players from real teams to compete on fantasy teams using the real-world players’ stats.

Since 2016, the practice has been illegal in Alabama following a legal decision by the Attorney General’s Office that categorized it as gambling.

ADVERTISEMENT

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, predicted the bill’s failure during a committee meeting two weeks ago, where the bill passed unanimously.

Sen. Paul Sanford speaks to reporters after a Senate Committee meeting on Feb. 28, 2018. (Samuel Mattison/APR)

Speaking to reporter’s after the committee meeting, Sanford said the decision to file the bill was mainly a philosophical belief that the practice shouldn’t be illegal.

Sanford, a fantasy sports player before its ban, said that fantasy sports are a way to bring people closer together and not a means to win money. The Huntsville senator is not seeking re-election.

The bill’s failure in the Senate follows its trajectory last year too. A similar version of the bill, also sponsored by Sanford, failed in the Senate during the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session.

Public Service Announcement

Since Sanford is retiring, it is unclear if the bill will even come back next session, or if it will even have a Senate sponsor.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement