Updated 

Beebe stresses budget pain without private option


WASHINGTON – Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe on Saturday said that state lawmakers would have to make painful budget choices if they fail to pass an appropriations bill with the private option.

“Even though some are posturing that it is not going to be that bad, it is simple arithmetic. There is maybe $90 million worth of budget cuts that will have to be made,” he said.

Beebe, who is in Washington, D.C., attending the winter meeting of the National Governors Association, said that finding those cuts in a $5 billion budget are magnified because half the budget cannot be touched.

“K through 12 is sacrosanct,” he said.

That means everything else would be on the table including higher education, human services, city and county funding, and public safety.

“I’m sure we would have 136 different ideas of where to cut but I don’t know how long it would take to come to a consensus on that,” Beebe said.

The private option resulted from a waiver that Arkansas received, allowing the state to expand Medicaid to a greater number of low-income residents by using federal funds to pay their private health-insurance premiums.

More than 100,000 individuals have signed up for the expanded Medicaid, which presents another problem for those who would abolish the program, Beebe said.

“What are you going to do, kick them off?” he asked.

Beebe said he is reaching out every day to lawmakers who will listen to explain and answer questions and make the case for the private option. But, the problem comes down to the state Constitution and its requirement for a super three-quarters majority to pass appropriations.

“The operative key to this whole debate is the super majority required,” he said.

The Senate has cleared the three-fourths majority hurdle but, so far, the House has come up short. The private option failed for the fourth time in the House on Friday, by a vote of 71-18. Proponents needed 75.

The House is expected to try again on Tuesday, and proponents say they are just two votes shy of the 75.

Beebe hopes that they will get the job done and avoid a protracted budget battle.

“The last thing you want to do is have Little Rock start looking like Washington with all its stalemates,” he said.