Arkansas Democrats, Republicans Seek Consensus in State Legislature

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012 2:21 pm  

Gov. Mike Beebe (D-Ark.) meets with reporters at the State Capitol in Little Rock, a day after Republicans took control of both houses of the State Legislature. (Photo by Lance Turner)

But the divide between both parties on the major issues facing the Legislature next year is as long as the list of obstacles to finding consensus. Beebe reiterated that his priority for tax cuts next year remains his push to reduce the state's grocery tax, while Republicans say they'd rather focus on cutting the state's income tax.

Beebe would not say if he definitely planned to propose another grocery tax cut, but noted that a projected shortfall in the state's Medicaid program — currently projected at $358 million but likely to change when he presents his budget next week — could halt any tax-reduction talks.

"Before anybody starts talking about tax relief, they better put some real names and faces and people in their priority list and look at what our budget looks like," Beebe said.

Also up in the air was Beebe's support for expanding Medicaid's eligibility under the federal health care law, which would require a three-fourths majority in both chambers to enact. DHS officials said expanding the eligibility would add 250,000 people to the state's Medicaid rolls.

Beebe noted that passing the Medicaid expansion was already a tough sell in the Legislature before the election, when Democrats held a majority but were far short of the 75 votes needed.

"If the two sides can't get together and figure this stuff out, then it is what it is," Beebe said.

Lamoureux has said that the expansion is not off the table with a Republican majority, but said GOP lawmakers want to see reforms in exchange for any growth of the program.

"It's going to be the toughest issue that people feel the strongest about," Lamoureux said. "I don't know what we're going to be able to work out about it. I think that's going to consume a lot of our time trying to figure that out."

Under the health care law, the federal government will pay for a state's Medicaid expansion beginning in 2014. After three years, states must pay a gradually increasing share that tops out at 10 percent of the cost.

State Rep. Bruce Westerman, the Republicans' leader in the House, all but declared the expansion dead with a GOP majority in the Senate and at least a plurality in the House.

"I don't see the support for adding 250,000 people to Medicaid with a three-year deal and the chance we'd have to kick people off the program after three years," he said. "That form of Medicaid expansion, I don't think is a serious proposal."

Tuesday's election also showed how much both parties in the House suffered from lawmakers' scandals. State Rep. Hudson Hallum's resignation after his ballot fraud conviction — and a judge's Election Day decision that no votes could be counted for him — paved the way for Fred Smith to be the chamber's only Green Party lawmaker and cost Democrats a seat that could have at least split the House 50-50.

And voter backlash against the racially charged writings of three Republican House candidates — two incumbents and a former lawmaker challenging a Democratic representative — likely cost the GOP a more decisive margin.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

 

 

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