Governor-elect Asa Hutchinson cautioned Arkansans to not seek premature conclusions about his decision Tuesday to seek a new Surgeon General for his administration. The sitting Arkansas Surgeon General Joe Thompson is an advocate for the state’s version of Medicaid expansion – the private option – and has served in the position since 2007.
Speaking to reporters at the Capitol Governor-elect Hutchinson said the decision is about getting a new set of eyes to evaluate the private option.
“You should not read into that as some indication of a direction I’m going. As I said last time you’ve got to give me until mid-January. But I do know that I want to have a fresh look at this,” said Hutchinson.
The incoming Republican Governor did not take the opportunity to fault Thompson for his work on the private option and reiterated he wanted someone new to evaluate the program as it exists in January.
“In terms of the future obviously the Surgeon General has played a key role in helping develop the strategy and marketing of the private option to the legislature and I think we need to have a fresh look at all of this. I’ve communicated this to Dr. Thompson. He’s done a great job but we have to have a fresh look at all of this and I think a new Surgeon General will help us to have that fresh look,” said Hutchinson.
Hutchinson has routinely said the private option has some beneficial aspects but he has refrained from saying whether he would support the program’s re-authorization next year. Hutchinson has also regularly noted concerns over cost and work-incentives. The program, funded through the Affordable Care Act, provides private insurance to over 200,000 low-income Arkansans.
Hutchinson said one key player in the state’s healthcare administration will remain, referring to Department of Human Services Director John Selig.
“I’m counting on him being there as we enter the legislative session,” said Hutchinson.
Legislators have been mulling budget proposals presented by the term-limited Democratic Governor Mike Beebe this month. Hutchinson said his team is continuing to develop their own budget in advance of next year’s legislative session.
“We’ve agreed upon a process where I will be reviewing with my budget team the specific agencies, their budgets, what adjustments need to be made. So it’s going to an agency by agency and line by line item review that I will conduct of the existing budget,” said Hutchinson.
A $100 million income tax cut is expected to be a centerpiece of Hutchinson’s budget plan. However, Hutchinson said $30 million of manufacturing and capital gains tax cuts passed last year, set to begin next year, may have to be altered in order to implement his income tax plan for middle class Arkansans.
“We will look at what’s already been passed to see whether they need to be folded into my priority, whether they need to stand separately, or need to be adjusted. I’ll work with the legislature on those but I’ll take a fresh look at this too,” said Hutchinson.
Earlier this month, outgoing Governor Mike Beebe recommended the legislature delay the $30 million worth of tax cuts in order to maintain services and keep the budget balanced. Hutchinson said he wants the legislature, convening in January, to address tax cuts early.
“The earlier the better. I want to make sure that the legislature has my guidance and my priorities established as they enter the session,” said Hutchinson.
Hutchinson’s remarks also touched on recent allegations of abuse at juvenile detention facilities in Arkansas. Some reports have centered on the use of restraining devices and procedures.
“I’ve pledged my full support to make sure they have the resources to have sufficient monitors to prevent the abuse of our juvenile detainees. That is a very important topic that we will continue to work on,” said Hutchinson.
While Hutchinson characterized the actions of detention staff as abuse he did not say whether those responsible were being held accountable.
“I’m not Governor and I don’t know that anybody is…I leave that to the current administration. In terms of my review of it I’m more concerned about the problem being addressed and I believe that it has been at this time. We’ll continue to monitor it to make sure that it doesn’t happen again,” said Hutchinson.
Hutchinson defeated Democrat Mike Ross, Green Josh Drake, and Libertarian Frank Gilbert in November’s midterm election. He officially takes the office in January.