by David Ramsey
The big story of the week was tax cuts, with Rep. Charlie Collins pushing an income tax cut and House Speaker Davy Carter hoping to slash the capital gains tax. What does that have to do with the Expand-o-meter? Well, expansion is revenue positive for the state, to the tune of hundreds of millions (more on that in a minute). That leaves a lot more room in the budget for tax cuts. Republicans want cuts no matter what, but Collins acknowledged that revenue gained from expansion is an important piece of the puzzle. And Gov. Mike Beebe has explicitly said he'll be on board with tax cuts if and only if the state goes forward with expansion.
Collins said he was "stunningly encouraged" by the emergence of the new "private option" framework. He wasn't the only Republican speaking positively about it, and even arch conservatives sound open...though Republicans are always quick to note that they are also seeking changes to the existing program. Also, an announcement that might attract some more Republicans: the Chamber of Commerce has endorsed the "private option."
Meanwhile more good news from DHS, which released actuarial numbers suggesting that the "private option" not only wouldn't be more expensive than traditional Medicaid expansion, but would save the feds hundreds of millions of dollars. It's a potentially game-changing theory; many remain skeptical, but it should help to alleviate cost concerns. The finding that should really perk legislators' ears up: expansion saves the state almost $700 million over the next ten years.
Will all of this be enough? We'll see. The tricky part remains that lots of individual legislators are wildcards. Sen. Larry Teague, a Democrat, said in the D-G this morning that he opposes the "private option." And there's always the danger that inter-party squabbling could complicate an agreement.
Still, those are the vagaries of any legislative decision. If you're going to make a bet (and the Expand-o-meter is a gambler), the bet is on YES.