Rep. John Burris, the Republican minority leader in the Arkansas House of Representatives, spoke to a meeting of the Central Arkansas Young Republicans today at Whole Hog Cafe in Little Rock. Since I’ve written here about the budget debate at the Capitol, I stopped by to hear Burris’s thoughts on the current state of play.
Burris, who along with his colleagues has proposed budget reductions totaling some $21 million, noted that Gov. Mike Beebe has been unreceptive to his message of reining in state government growth: The governor said today he could accept only about $678,000 in additional budget reductions without cutting into what he called “essential services.”
“I went to bed thinking that we had a good plan that the Governor couldn’t say ‘no’ to,” Burris said. “This morning he said ‘Hell, no.’”
Burris emphasized that the point of finding ways to reduce the state budget is to better position the state for heavy looming expenditures in Medicaid and other needs.
“Our position is that there’s waste in government and that there’s a Medicaid crisis coming,” Burris said. “Their position is that there’s no waste in government and that there’s a Medicaid crisis coming.”
House Republicans have been criticized, he said, for making objections to bills on the floor that they haven’t made in committee: “The reason they want us to run amendments in committee is because they know they can kill it without a recorded vote,” he explained. “The reason they don’t like what we’re doing now is because it’s effective.”
I asked: so you’re in the position of passing their budget or not passing any budget, right?
“Yes, we’ve presented two proposals they’ve rejected,” he said. “It is hard to negotiate with someone who won’t negotiate.”
He predicted there will be some conflict on the floor on the two budget votes. The Democrats need two-thirds of the House to bring their budget up and a majority to pass it. Reading between the lines, it sounds like they’ll get what they need on those two votes. It also sounds like they’ll get some angry floor rhetoric from Republicans. (Here’s more on the great state budget showdown from Jason Tolbert at The Tolbert Report.)
My diagnosis: Burris has tried hard to reduce wasteful spending, but he has been forced to come to terms with the unpleasant legislative reality that the majority rules. If he falls short of his goal in this session, he’ll have sent a clear message as to what advocates for smaller government expect next year.
Over at my site for the Advance Arkansas Institute, I’ve developed a list of five strategies that limited government advocates should embrace to drive true budget reform in Arkansas (PDF). They may serve to inform future debates on this issue.