Dismang, Gillam Expect Tweaks To Governor’s Budget, Health Care Plans

Senate President Jonathan Dismang and Speaker of the House Jeremy Gillam say initial responses to the governor’s health care reforms and newly submitted budget may lead to tweaks versus radical changes.

Appearing on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, Gillam, R-Judsonia, and Dismang, R-Searcy, said they are waiting on language from the governor’s office for legislation to be drafted, but expect “no mysteries” after a year’s worth of task force debate.

“I think just based on what we’re hearing, the odds are there’s a pretty good amount of support there for the framework,” said Gillam. Dismang said he thought there could be additional scrutiny and possible changes to the work referral component of the Arkansas Works plan to “make sure we include some other entitlement programs here in the state.”

Both leaders said they would defer to members who worked on the health care legislative task force to sponsor the legislation.

While the policy aspect of passing the governor’s Medicaid expansion plan, Arkansas Works, will only require a 50%-plus-one margin, funding for the Arkansas Department of Human Services budget has required a 75% vote threshold. The idea has been floated that passage for funding might require a lower vote percentage, but neither Dismang nor Gillam said they believe that is an option.

“I don’t think that exploration has taken place in the Senate. I think that’s been more on the executive level and I think they have every right to look at all the tools that they have in front of them,” Dismang said. “At this point, the way that I’ve operated in the past and will continue to operate, we understand it to be a 75% threshold and that’s the position we’re going to operate from.” Gillam agreed.

If the 75% threshold isn’t met in the fiscal session that starts April 13, but the policy reforms are passed with smaller majorities in a prior special session on April 6, Dismang said that could lead to a more philosophical debate in the State Senate.

“That’s not a conversation I want to have right now… I would like for us to get through the policy discussion, get through the special session, and then we can have a discussion about whether or not it’s appropriate to utilize appropriations to dictate policy,” said the Senate leader.

Managed care is another pivotal debate in the governor’s health reform plan. The year-long task force studying the issue could not reach a consensus on the subject and decided to not vote on a recommendation to the full legislative body. Gillam predicts there will be a managed care component to reform that will likely come through a request for proposal (RFP) at DHS.

“I think there’s enough individuals working on this and looking at this for a great length of time – very talented, very creative – but I think with the governor and his staff, they’re going to be able to put together a plan for us to really kind of get behind – at least that’s my hope – and from what I’m hearing, that seems to be the direction we’re heading,” he said.

BUDGET, FISCAL SESSION
This past week, Gov. Hutchinson laid out his $5.33 billion budget proposal for the next fiscal year. It includes overall spending increases of $142.7 million with notable new funding for DHS and public schools.

Dismang said he wants to see additional money set aside for a rainy day fund, which the governor did not propose. Gillam said House members, while pleased with more funding for DHS’ Child and Family Services, may want even more money allocated to the division that oversees child welfare and adoptions.

This past week, Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, suggested the governor’s budget resulted in too much spending increase – roughly 2.7%. Hester suggested cutting funding to AETN, higher education and selling War Memorial Stadium, which receives state funds.

Gillam said those proposals “don’t have much traction on our end of the building,” and Dismang questioned whether higher education spending as a whole is “out of control.” He added that an overview of spending is warranted, but “blanket cuts” would not be prudent as higher ed works to better align its efforts with workforce initiatives.

Dismang also said that he was doubtful that a comprehensive review of higher education expenses could be pulled together before the fiscal session. He said it might have to wait until the regular session in 2017.

“It would require us to take a look at the funding allocations to each sister university or whatever it may be, and I’m not sure that we’ll have the time to be able to do that, but I think it’s a very good conversation for us to start having as we get ready for the actual regular session,” he said.

You can watch the full conversation between Gillam and Dismang in the video below.