Friday, May 30, 2008

The Compromise Not Taken

Last night, after a day of endless Medicaid hearings, followed by a long Medicaid Committee debate on a "bill", followed by an overhaul by Ways & Means, followed by the Medicaid Committee concurring, a Medicaid bill came to the floor.

The previous House position on funding Medicaid was to increase the cigarette tax by $1 to $1.18 per pack.

The bill before us increased the cigarette tax to $1 per pack, as well as taking half of the Governor's plan for the hospital assessment. While this may seem like something in the middle, it actually raised far more money than was needed to fund the Medicaid program (by at least $100 million). Such a bill, while it may give the House a stronger negotiating position, was unnecessary. The conference committee process could have worked back in the regular session, but the truth is it didn't work.

At the beginning of debate, I offered an amendment on the floor that would pay for Medicaid, even giving about a $10 million cushion. It would have taken half of the Governor's plan, as well as increased the cigarette tax by 25 cents to a total of 43 cents. The cigarette portion alone would raise $72.5 million of new revenue. Half of the Governor's plan would raise $54 million, for a total of $126.5 million; sufficient money for the FY 09 and then some. Plus, if you only raise the cigarette tax by 25 cents, you still can increase the cigarette tax more next year and connect it with some other tax break.

It was a compromise that had a better chance than any other bill thus far at getting through the process. It was a compromise many of my colleagues, in conversation, had favored.

In the end, the House majority chose not to step to the middle towards achieving an actual solution and defeated my amendment.

Every day we're here, we spend at least $40,000 of taxpayer dollars. And what have we accomplished this week? We passed a revenue bill in 15 minutes. We still haven't reached an agreement on MDES. And when there was a common sense solution presented for Medicaid, it was shot down.

However, the House majority suffered the consequences of not choosing a compromise. After they Christmas treed an alcohol sales tax increase (which was completely unnecessary, would have create nightmares for restaurants, and only raised $5 million of a $90 million hole), the butchered Medicaid bill fell 10 votes short of the required 3/5 majority. 10 votes may sound small but will be large deficit to try and plug on the next try.

I assume that after their defeat, a separate compromise will be offered. But I think the best solution, at this time, in this special session, realizing that we're wasting $40,000 a day, is to pair half of the Governor's plan with a 25-cent increase in the cigarette tax. It's not the immediate $1/pack solution that many of us originally wanted, but it's a proposal that would actually demonstrate that the House is trying to achieve a solution for the people we represent. Right now, all we're demonstrating is that we are perpetuating a broken and dysfunctional system.

1 comment:

Terry21 said...

Are people considering the fact that cigarette money will decrease if a $1 surcharge is added?

In New York, which has even greater tax, has seen a reduction of smoking, because of the higher take.

Gradual or slow increases can be taken easier by the purchaser and not lose the tax base.

If the average Mississippian is spending appx. $2 more per gallon of gas, they are losing those extra funds to waste on items like cigarettes.