By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—The Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee passed the General Fund Budget on Wednesday. Most agencies were level-funded, and they will receive the same amount of funding as last year, without any adjustments for inflation. In most agencies, this is akin to a cut, since many have been level-funded since 2008. Later in the afternoon, General Fund Committee Chairman Tripp Pitman (R-Daphne), proposed a bill setting up a lottery.
One of the most-watched agencies this budget cycle, Medicaid, was level-funded at $685 million. Earlier this month, Governor Bentley announced that Alabama would be one of three-state-recipients approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), to receive a waiver to implement a plan for regional care organizations (RCO) that would transform the way Alabama offers Medicaid.
Without a raise to $785 million in the Medicaid funding, the RCO waiver will be denied. The funding allocated for the RCOs must be used for the transition to the new plan, and can not be used for services, according to the waiver.
Stephanie Azar, acting director for Medicaid, said, “The waiver will stop at $645 million.”
Pittman said, “My position is there needs to be a debate on Medicaid funding.”
Pittman said, in order to get the needed funds for Medicaid, the rest of the agencies would need to be cut by 10 percent. He didn’t think the other agencies could withstand any further cuts.
According to Pittman, the Senate budget proposal closely mirrors the one proposed by Governor Bentley, however, it omits the $181 million transfer from the Education Trust Fund (ETF), as well as a pay raise for State workers. Pittman said, he understood the need for raises, but with the Medicaid situation being as it is, he did not think it was possible at this time.
Azar said, in addition, many services and primary care bump for providers, and this “cut” could have a negative effect on hospitals and pediatricians. She pointed out that even though the economy seems to be out of recession, wages have not increased. Many of the Medicaid beneficiaries are children of low-wage workers, who make do not make enough to provide healthcare for their children.
DHR and Mental Health saw an increase of $2.5 million each.
Governor Bentley promises to veto the budget in its current form. It is scheduled to be addressed on the Senate Floor on Thursday.
Pittman introduced SB232 in the Tourism and Marketing committee meeting on Wednesday, proposing a constitutional amendment allowing Alabama to participate in a multi-state lotteries, only. The fiscal note estimates the proceeds to $53 million annually, that are directed to the General Fund. No vote was taken by the committee.
While a lottery amendment has been discussed to address the deficit in the budget, passing such legislation would not go into effect for the 2017 budget, since an amendment would need to appear on the November 2016 primary ballot, before it could be implemented in the 2018 proposed budgets.
The bill specifically states, “Approval of this amendment does not authorize any other form of game of chance or gambling, including but not limited to, Class III gaming as defined by the Indian gaming regulatory act….”
Concerning the lottery, Pittman proposed taking money from the ETF to support GF until a lottery bill could be passed.