When I started writing this afternoon, here was my opening:
"I'm afraid this Report isn't nearly as exciting as I had hoped it would be last week. Most of the action looks to happen tomorrow and Thursday -- I will update you as events unfold on my Facebook page, so check there to see the latest until I wrap it up next Tuesday in next week's Report."
How quickly things change.
I left a meeting about the TPT simplification bill in the Governor's tower at 4:30 and returned to the Senate to discover an email saying something about floor action at 5:00. Which was very strange since we had adjourned for the day around 2pm.
When 5pm rolled around we discovered that the Governor decided she had had enough. Here is her tweet from a few minutes later:
"It's time to complete the people's business. No more delays. No more stall tactics. No more games. #SpecialSession #AZMedicaid"
At 7:15pm we President Biggs gaveled us into Special Session, but no other Medicaid opponents were on the floor. We first-read the Governor's budget bills and Medicaid expansion, then adjourned for the evening.
These budget bills are basically the Senate budget with a few changes for the better, including removal of the sunset date for the Medicaid restoration, and the restoration of the Department of Housing.
The plan as it exists now is for us to come in tomorrow (regular session floor at 10:30am, special session at 11am), second read the bills, debate in Committee of the Whole, then third read and send to the Governor for signature after midnight on tomorrow night/Thursday morning. Stay tuned.
So how did we get here?
We did virtually nothing for the rest of last week until yesterday, when only two bills were heard in the House Appropriations Committee -- the Senate budget's Health bill (SB1492), and a strike-everything bill allowing warrantless searches of abortion clinics, and needlessly restating the federal Hyde Amendment that precludes federal funding from going towards abortions (SB1069).
1069 was heard first -- it is primarily another ideological effort to divide the moderate bipartisan coalition that supports the Senate budget. Despite its clear violation of the U.S. Constitution's ban on unreasonable search and seizure, the bill obtained a party-line 7-4 approval. It was scheduled to be debated on the House floor today, but it was retained on the calendar for a future date. I hear there will be an effort to further amend the bill to make it marginally better. The topic may be moot now that the special session has changed all the dynamics.
The Medicaid restoration, as contained in the Senate Health budget bill, was heard next. The arguments weren't much different that we had heard on the Senate floor when we passed it a few weeks ago. Proponents like AHCCCS Director Tom Betlach laid out the state's four options:
1) Continue freezing out single childless adults, despite the violation of the voter-approved law to the contrary. This would cost us $880 million in taxpayer dollars over three years, confirmed by the Legislature's own budget advisory committee.
2) Restore coverage for all childless adults, but do not cover those earning between 100% and 133% of the poverty level. This would cost us $1.3 billion over the next three years, even with federal matching funds, but would be consistent with voter-approved law.
3) Drop coverage for all childless adults -- the 63,000 people currently covered, including 5,000 cancer patients and 2,000 people with severe mental illness. This would cost us nothing but our souls, public safety, and the death of our healthcare system from the cost of unreimbursed care. The Governor calls this option "morally repugnant and fiscally irresponsible."
4) The Governor's plan to restore coverage for 240,000 childless adults in poverty and expand coverage to 57,000 more adults earring up to 133% of the poverty line. This actually EARNS us $100 million in the General Fund over the next three years.
So there it is: Pay nearly a billion dollars in taxpayer money over the next three years to NOT cover 297,000 people and drive our hospitals into bankruptcy, or rake in $100 million more to our state treasury while covering them all. Any other choice but the Governor's plan amounts to wasting taxpayer money, human lives, and the Arizona economy to make a political point.
The arguments against this were basically twofold: 1) We hate Obama and Obamacare, so we should be willing to hurt ourselves in order to prove how much we hate him and his policies; and 2) We can't guarantee the Feds will keep giving us these matching funds four years from now, so we shouldn't cover anyone in the meantime so we won't have to drop them if the money ends in the future.
The first argument is not worth rebutting due to its raw and fearful partisan nature. The second argument makes no sense -- wouldn't those nearly 300,000 people who currently lack healthcare rather have coverage for the next four years than to not have coverage at all? Additionally, the same people making this argument had no problem chopping 130,000 childless adults and 60,000 kids in poverty three years ago when the budget picture looked bleak. Why would they have any trouble doing the same in the future?
A particularly interesting argument was offered by Rep. David Livingston (R-Peoria), which was that since Republicans control all branches of government, they should adopt a "Republican budget". I would argue that the Governor has amply proven her Republican credentials, and she supports the Senate budget. In any case, the Arizona people don't need a Republican budget or a Democratic budget, -- we need a budget that works for everyone, regardless of party.
Livingston has proposed his own "People's Budget", which simply cuts 5% across the board from everything -- health care, roads, hospitals, schools, CPS, developmentally disabled services, everything -- then hoards away hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to do nothing for the Arizona citizenry. Not sure which "people" he is talking about to whom he dedicates this slash-fest, but I know I've not met any of them.
In that Monday Approps Committee, the Senate Health budget bill was defeated on another party-line vote 4-7. As as it turns out, it looks like that may have been the beginning of the end of the Governor's patience on this issue.
Again, look at my Facebook page for updates this week until I give you the whole rundown of the action in next Tuesday's Farley Report.
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
Paid for by Friends O'Farley