Fiscal conservatives are frustrated that the tax burden in Arkansas is high in comparison with other states and that the cost of Arkansas government is high compared to other states; and yet Governor Asa Hutchinson says Arkansas has a revenue problem not a spending problem.
Recently a liberal Democrat-Gazette columnist responded to the idea that there should be cuts in the state budget with: “Tough luck, Granny.” Anytime state budget cuts are proposed, liberals and tax and spend politicians shout, “This cut will cause granny to be thrown out of the nursing home.” In other words, Arkansas can NEVER have budget cuts.
In 2013 liberal supporters of Obamacare Medicaid Expansion used granny and the threat of a Medicaid budget shortfall as a reason Arkansas had to pass Obamacare Medicaid Expansion. They used the scare tactic to flip some Republican votes. But after the program was authorized, the talk of a shortfall went away even though no new federal money would flow to the state for almost a year. (In fact, in that year $300 million was released to spend through the General Improvement Fund.) Another example of crying “wolf.”
In April 2016 the Hutchinson administration used outrageous predictions of budget cuts if the Governor didn’t get to continue his version of Obamacare Medicaid Expansion, Arkansas Works. He wanted the bogus predictions to scare people, so they would put pressure on conservative legislators to let the Governor have his Obamacare program. The scare tactics weren’t just about granny. He wanted to scare everybody and used dire projections of cuts for Medicaid, public schools, prisons, libraries, county aid, municipal aid, state police, the School for the Blind, the School for the Deaf, etc. Although the state fully funded these things before the state began receiving federal funds for Obamacare Medicaid Expansion in 2014 he wanted it to look like state services would collapse without it just two years later.
Liberals will keep telling you there can never be budget cuts because they need every dime (even the last dime left in your pocket). They want the uninformed to think fiscal conservatives do not care about granny? (Conduit for Action “affectionately” referred to this tactic as “pain point politics.”)
What fiscal conservatives want is to cut out waste and to focus spending on priority items. Granny is not the target. The target of budget cuts is the poor budgeting practices, stupid wasteful spending, and over spending on low priority items.
Examples of waste and over spending…
- Failure to evaluate agencies and programs. When a new annual budget is approved most agencies get the same percentage budget increase based on what the agency received before. Not only is this wasteful, it is just plain lazy. Each state program needs to be evaluated for priority and efficiency, instead of on how much money the agency received the previous year.
- Spending everything you have. Politicians love to tell you how they have limited the growth in General Revenue spending, BUT they fail to tell you they spend everything they receive by shifting money into other accounts and spending from those accounts. For example, at one time, General Improvement Funds were used primarily for capital expenditures if there was sufficient money to do so. Now the fund is used to funnel money into regular operations such as Medicaid/ Obamacare Medicaid Expansion. And, it is used for lots of discretionary spending. The fund has become just another spending account and to hide spending growth that should show up as General Revenue expenditure growth.
- Rewarding mismanagement with more money. The Governor’s recommendation for the travel budget of the Department of Labor was to double the travel budget of the agency in 2017. He kept this recommendation despite the Division of Legislative Audit discovering that the Director had spent thousands of dollars in questionable trips. The legislature passed the Governor’s recommendation and waste was rewarded.
- Wasting money on a computer system that did not work. Hutchinson’s DHS botched the effort to implement a new computer system for verifying Medicaid recipients. Only after DHS wasted $32 million did they fire the computer contractor. In addition, the estimated cost of the project doubled from $100 million to $200 million.
- Spending an extra $20 million to award a contract to the highest bidder. Despite state money problems, an ever-increasing state budget, and legislative opposition, Governor Hutchinson awarded a three-year contract for information technology services for the DHS in the amount of $75.3 million instead of using the contractor bidding $54.4 million.
- Wasteful discretionary spending. Even after the Governor had to cut his overly optimistic general revenue budget, the Governor gave emergency funds to three private colleges in Pulaski County. Yes, he gave your tax money to private colleges. This is just one example of his discretionary spending. With the legislature meeting every year, it is time to cut out all discretionary spending by the Governor, other than on real emergencies.
- Picking winners and losers in business and spending your money. The Governor continues to pick winners and losers in business by giving away state funds to private businesses ranging from a Taekwondo center to a steel mill seeking to become a competitor to an existing Arkansas steel mill.
Throw granny out of the nursing home? Give me a break! Arkansas could lower our high tax burden and provide better services to granny and others, if politicians would do their job.
The fiscal session for the Arkansas legislature begins February 12, 2018. Tell the politicians to do their job and that you are not buying their scare tactics anymore.