You’ve probably heard about the allegedly terrifying consequences of the legislature ending the fiscal session without a Medicaid budget — which, to state the obvious, is looking more and more likely. I’ve written about the scare tactics coming from state bureaucrats, the unfounded fears of a “zombie apocalypse,” and the empty nature of Speaker Carter’s “government shutdown” threats. (These hysterical predictions remind me of this scene from Ghostbusters — “The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats, living together! Mass hysteria!”) You can almost hear the command coming from Governor Beebe’s office: “Crank up the fear generators!”
We have an idea of what will not happen if the legislature heads home without funding Medicaid for next year. But what would happen? Don’t take my word for it — take it from former Bureau of Legislative Research chief David Ferguson. In this new memo from Conduit For Action, Ferguson outlines what would happen in this scenario. Here are some highlights:
Some have suggested that there would be dire consequences [if the legislature leaves without a DHS budget]. But that is just not the case. In fact, we have been down this road before in 2003.
1. The General Assembly has another four months to reach a compromise.
2. A Special Session could begin as late as the last week of June and still have time to avoid a gap in DHS funding.
3. A short Special Session could be held with only a minimal cost by scheduling regular committee meetings on those days.
4. The General Assembly has been down this road before. In 2003, the Regular Session ended without passing appropriation bills for several agencies. Governor Huckabee called a Special Session in which the General Assembly passed sixty-two (62) appropriation bills and the Revenue Stabilization Bill without any funding being jeopardized.
5. Some people have expressed concern that in a Special Session the Governor controls the items to be considered. Yes, the Governor’s Call determines what issues come up in a Special Session, but there should not be any negative effect in a Special Session to consider the DHS appropriation. The General Assembly has wide latitude in deciding what comes within the Governor’s Call Items.
Ferguson also notes that last year’s legislative session lasted four months, which is roughly the same amount of time between now and the end of this fiscal year. During that four-month time period, the legislature passed 1,520 bills. Perhaps, with four months to work, they can find a way to pass just one.