by Max Brantley
She doesn't favor tapping a Medicaid reserve to pay for a state employee pay raise or anything else, including tax cuts. She doesn't favor a wholesale restoration of Forestry Commission jobs without a plan to pay for it. She thinks a plan can be devised to avoid periodic furloughs for court assistants. She thinks the fiscal session isn't a place to open up new legislative fronts.
She notes, too, the ratcheting up of combative rhetoric from the "other side of the aisle" and calls for more civility.
The full note follows:
Only one week to go before the fiscal session starts. You may have noticed that several bills have been filed which go, in my opinion, beyond the scope of what voters said they wanted when they passed a constitutional amendment authorizing a fiscal session. I hope we can stick to appropriations bills, do the work required, and go home.
Interestingly, some of the hottest topics of conversations have revolved around relatively small amounts of money. Specifically, the Forestry Commission and The Administration of Justice Fund come to mind. As I said earlier this week, I will not support adding positions in Forestry without a solid plan to pay for them. While I never enjoy having to lay workers off, we are in a situation where that may be the only prudent option. Some claim that without restoring every job, we will be unprepared for potential forest fires. However, I can’t see Governor Beebe submitting a budget for that department that would put ANY Arkansan or their property in jeopardy. I hope to see several fire fighters added through savings in other line items, and through any other areas we can find. But I will not support the additions without solid funding streams.
The AOJ Fund has not received the anticipated monies, in part because some are choosing to perform community service or stay in jail because they have no money to pay their fines. While there are additional reasons collections are down, the net result will be that workers may have to be furloughed, further clogging the courts. I hope that within the next week, members of the legislature see a plan for solving the shortfalls and a plan to avoid furloughs.
Two additional items made the news this weekend: reduced wages and mileage payments for home health care workers and errors in the Treasurer’s office which caused counties to lose federal dollars. We need to find the money to avoid furloughs and reduced mileage reimbursements, particularly when serving the elderly and frail at home is better for both the client AND the taxpayer. I do want, and expect, a full report on why the federal dollars were lost. There should be no excuses. I hope we can get the grants restored.
Turning to a huge ticket item for a moment, let’s talk about Medicaid. Members have suggested cutting into the proposed $114 million increase to fund everything from a COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) to tax cuts. I would support neither plan for two reasons. First, we expect to begin tapping into Medicaid Trust Fund money this year. To raid the fund could mean services for the most vulnerable would be curtailed. Second, while I have supported a COLA, this is not the place to get it. It is highly likely that we will have to increase general revenue dollars for Medicaid in FY 2014. Granting tax cuts, which every politician wants to support, would further endanger services for the children, disabled Arkansans, and nursing home residents. I believe it is our responsibility to be prudent with taxpayer dollars not just for today, but for the foreseeable future.
Finally, I have seen the ratcheting up of political rhetoric in the last few weeks. Between what I read online and what I get via email, I am increasingly disturbed. I have colleagues who sit on the “other side of the aisle” from me, with whom I have constructive and productive policy discussions. After reading a number of posts on Twitter yesterday, I was so dismayed that I referred back to the speech I delivered at Little Rock Central High’s Baccalaureate this past May. The excerpted section on civility seems to be appropriate today:
Be civil. Civility isn’t saying “excuse me” while stabbing someone in the back; nor is it rolling over and playing dead. But in our increasingly diverse and complex world, it’s realizing that thoughtful and caring people can have different opinions about how to solve problems. As the authors of the best-seller, GETTING TO YES, tell us, it’s taking the personal out of the equation and looking at data and as much as possible, the facts of the issue. We seem to have lost either the ability or the desire to be civil, most notably in politics. And while it seems like it has gotten worse over the last few years, John Kennedy thought it was important enough to talk about in his Inaugural Address in 1961, when he said that “civility is not a sign of weakness.” I heard Sister Helen Prejean, noted activist and author of DEAD MAN WALKING, remind us that “we have to build bridges and cross boundaries we’ve set up in our culture and we have to have conversations to build community.” When we place partisanship or our belief that WE have the only answer-above the local, state or national interest-when that partisanship or entrenchment is more important than solving the problem-cheap shots rule, civility is lost and working for the common good becomes non-existent.