THREE DAYS AND COUNTING
Following 4 days and nights of tedious negotiations the House and Senate conferees finally reached an agreement on $10.7 billion 2-year operating budget (2014-2015). The most contentious discussions centered on Medicaid expansion. When it was over the Senate agreed to create a Medicaid expansion commission that would be required to report by October 15, 2013. A special session would be called to take up the commission’s report. At stake is $2.5 billon dollars in federal dollars to health care providers and 58 low-income people on Medicaid.
As with any negotiations both sides come in with their list of priorities and clearly both the House and Senate spelled theirs out in the opening session. The Senate made it clear it was not going to jump on board Medicaid expansion without a complete review of the issue. The House pushed to reduce the back of the budget cuts in state job cuts from $20 million to $10 million winning a partial victory. The Senate agreed cut the number in half and giving the Governor the flexibility to come up across the board savings.
Both sides came out winners with more funding for higher education, for the mental health system and funding a two-year state employee contract. The Senate did not go along with the House $49 million projection in higher revenue figures of the biennium. The Senate also got its $7 million budget reduction in the Department of Health and Human Services. And despite their efforts the House conferees could not convince the Senate to go along with increasing the tobacco tax by 30 cents per pack or increasing the gasoline tax by 12 cents per gallon. The Senate did succeed in adding $3 million more for the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) and $3.4 million for four new charter schools along with ending a moratorium.
The House and Senate will vote on the budget and other conference committee bills Wednesday, June 26.