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State’s Medicaid cuts leave a bloody wound

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Montell on process: ‘It’s a travesty’

By Lisa King

Yes, a deal was struck on how to fund the shortfall in the state’s Medicaid budget, but there appears to have been little closure on the issue – at least from Shelby County’s elected delegates.

In a complicated and politically charged process, the Medicaid cuts were passed by the General Assembly last week, but the budget adjustments made to accommodate the $166 million shortfall were hardly those Republican lawmakers said they thought they were passing.

This story starts in the House, which just two days into last week’s special session, passed a compromise bill on how to cut the money without following the courses advocated by Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear or the Republican-controlled Senate.

State Rep. Brad Montell (R-Shelbyville) said he and fellow Republicans in the Democrat-controlled House were very pleased with the bill, but then the legislative process took a strange – and what he said he believes is an incorrect – course when the legislation returned from the Senate.

“In a very strange, unlikely move, the House Democrats elected to agree with the Senate bill, so that was shocking to us,” Montell said. “Then we realized that they had cut a deal with the governor, who was going to veto out everything he didn’t like, and the vetoes, it’s full of them.”

The Senate had wanted across-the-board governmental cuts rather than borrowing from next year’s Medicaid budget, with Montell and state Sen. Paul Hornback (R-Shelbyville) agreeing that was the most responsible way to handle the matter.

But Monday they said they were not pleased with the bill that resulted from the special session.

“In a nutshell, what we have here, the governor will borrow the one-hundred sixty-six million from next year’s budget, and there are no cuts enacted and no accountability,” Montell said. “We also had language [in the bill] that said he will report back to the legislature on any savings or efficiencies he’s been able to realize, but he vetoed that language.

“There’s absolutely no accountability in the bill that stands after the vetoes on how the governor is going to manage this crisis that we find ourselves in with this Medicaid shortfall. I think it’s a travesty that the governor is getting away with this.”

Some items Beshear vetoed include:

§       Creating efficiencies through reducing personal service contracts.

§       Creating efficiencies through savings from a reduction of political appointees.

§       Limits on additional general fund debt restructuring.

§       Mandates that all reductions result in annual recurring savings.

§       Repeal on furloughs for state employees.

§       Additional reporting requirements for savings related to expansion of managed care.

Montell said he and others voiced their disapproval with the bill, but the House voted to adjourn the session, which in effect prevents any changes being made to the bill. The Senate did not adjourn.

“Our floor leader argued against it; I argued against it; several of us stood on the House floor and argued against the merits of sine die, [Latin phrase meaning to end], which gives us no ability to come back and override any vetoes,” he said.

“There is a question of the constitutionality of this,” he said.

House Republican Floor Leader Jeff Hoover (R-Jamestown) called on House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Floyd County), the only person besides the governor with the ability to reopen the session, to bring members of the House back to the state capitol on April 6 to give them a chance to override items vetoed by Beshear.

 “Our caucus stood in opposition to the House adjourning sine diebecause we would lose our ability to hold the governor accountable and to override any vetoes issued on House Bill 1,” he said. “After having a chance to review the vetoes issued on Friday, there are numerous items Governor Beshear vetoed that cause us great concern as to his ability to generate savings within the budget.”

Hoover added that the governor has “clearly snubbed his nose” at the bipartisan efforts to pass a compromise bill.

“The governor’s actions are disturbing, and we, as a House, need to hold him accountable,” he said.

“I implore Speaker Stumbo  to recognize the bipartisan effort and overwhelming vote in the House and bring us back to Frankfort and give us the opportunity to use our veto power.”

However, Stumbo apparently has no plans to do so.

 “We have no plans to return until the 2012 regular session convenes,” he said Monday in a statement. “The entire General Assembly cannot adjourn in final form until the Senate follows the House action. Senate leadership has been here long enough to understand this rule, which has been followed for over 200 years in our state.

“By failing in this simple duty, the Senate is costing taxpayers sixty-five thousand dollars a day. I again encourage them to call themselves together to adjourn sine dieand save this totally needless expense.”

But Montell said, “The fact is, we could go back in and override that veto and not cost the state money. But even if it did cost the taxpayers money, in the long run, we would save them a lot of money.”

Newly elected Hornback called his first experience with balancing a state budget “interesting,” but he added that he was disturbed by it.

“My first session was certainly interesting to me, but I’m sorry to say that there’s not a lot of accountability in the budget,” he said. “I’m just not one  for pushing debt forward. I just don’t think that’s the right way to run things.  It’s like kicking a can down the road until it gets to be a barrel.

“Believe me, no one up here, in the Senate or the House wants to cut anything. But just like our own personal budgets, you just have to see the reality of the situation and get things in line.”