GOP Majority in Arkansas Could Alter Mike Beebe's Plans

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012 2:25 pm  

Next week's election could shake up the last regular legislative session for Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, who was re-elected in 2010 and is not on Tuesday's ballot.

LITTLE ROCK - Republicans in Arkansas, who are increasingly confident they will take control of the Legislature next year, could be in a position to alter the plans of a Democratic governor who's enjoyed a string of victories at the Statehouse over the past several years.

Republican leaders in both chambers are planning policy shifts on taxes, Medicaid and other issues if the GOP wins a majority in both the House and Senate for the first time since Reconstruction. Next week's election could shake up the last regular session for Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, who was re-elected in 2010 and is not on Tuesday's ballot.

Beebe presents his budget more than a week after the election and isn't expected to detail his legislative agenda until January, when the Legislature convenes. But in interviews, speeches and campaign materials, Republicans have already laid out areas where they're likely to split with the popular, two-term governor in next year's session.

"I don't think it will be a different session, but there will be a significant difference in terms of the policies that are coming out of the Legislature," said state Rep. David Sanders, a Republican who is running for the state Senate against Democrat Johnny Hoyt.

Democrats currently hold a 53-46 majority in the House, with one vacant seat, and a 20-15 majority in the Senate. While Democrats say they will maintain control of both chambers, Beebe has said only that he expects the Legislature to remain closely divided.

"Whether it's 53-46 R or 53-46 D, whatever it ends up being, we'll have to do the same thing we did last time, and that's get people to sit down, knock their heads together and see where we can reach consensus and agreement," Beebe said.

The most obvious change may be over Medicaid. Beebe already faces an uphill fight to persuade lawmakers to support expanding the program's eligibility under the federal health care law. An expansion would need approval from three-fourths of lawmakers in each chamber.

Most Republicans are opposed or reluctant to growing the program and cite a shortfall that the state projects will be $358 million. Beebe and top Republicans won't say the expansion is off the table if the GOP claims both chambers, but acknowledge the difficulty of trying with such a high vote threshold.

"It's going to take substantial agreement by both sides for anything like that to occur," Beebe said.

But Sen. Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, said the expansion could still be on the table in exchange for reforms to the state's Medicaid program. GOP lawmakers have said they want random drug testing of adult Medicaid recipients and new fraud and waste controls.

"Doing it in absence of any reform would be very unlikely," said Lamoureux, who hopes to be elected Senate president if his party wins the chamber. "If there was expansion, it would have to be part of an overall package to achieve reforms."

The other top conflict would likely be over tax cuts. Republicans want to focus on the state's income tax, while Beebe's top legislative priority since taking office in 2007 has been the state's sales tax on groceries.



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