On a wing and a prayer

By Bill Kaplan

Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP-led legislature used draconian budget cuts to project a balanced budget (surplus) at the end of his first term. However, they then continued on a nearly $2 billion tax cut spree (skewed to the rich) over four years, with more to come. The surplus went poof! So more budget cuts were put on the table: slash the UW System by $300 million and spend less on public schools. Outraged reaction from voters forced the spin doctors into a frenzy: projected estimated revenue increases would save the day. 

Then the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau said that tax collections were unlikely to be as high as some wishful politicians had predicted. Mitigation of the self-destructive and unthinkable educational cuts now seem like a pipe dream. However, there is a way out of this self-imposed catastrophe: 

* Stretch out or eliminate some of the tax cuts; 

* Most importantly, take the 100 percent federal funding (declining later to 90 percent) for Medicaid expansion. 

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau says the state could save more than $345 million over the next two years by expanding Medicaid. And, an additional 80,000 Wisconsinites could be covered. Moreover, the Urban Institute (D.C.) said that if Wisconsin took the federal Medicaid expansion funding state Medicaid spending would actually decline by 5 percent. 

The federal match for Wisconsin Medicaid is 58.23 percent. But under Medicaid expansion Wisconsin would have received 100 percent federal funding for 3 years (2014 - 2016), declining thereafter to a fixed 90 percent. Moreover, additional federal funding under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was lost when Walker removed low- income adults who had been enrolled in Medicaid prior to the passage of ACA. 

Listen to other Republicans nationwide who expanded Medicaid: 

* Arizona GOP Gov. Jan Brewer: "there comes a time (when) you have to look at the reality. You have to do the math...It's not only a mathematical issue, but it's a moral issue"; 

* Indiana GOP Gov. Mike Pence: "When it comes to the issue of health care, ... people in my party need to be solutions conservatives". (Indiana hospitals, who supported expansion, will pay the tab when the funding declines to 90 percent); 

* Ohio GOP Gov. John Kasich: "When you die and get to meeting with St. Peter, he's probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small, but he is going to ask about what you did for the poor"; 

* And, finally Florida GOP state Senate President Andy Gardiner "received a standing ovation from the entire Senate - and applause from lobbyists and activists in the audience - when he said the Senate would continue its fight for expanded (Medicaid) coverage" (Tampa Bay Times). 

I hope Gov. Walker and the GOP-led legislature are listening and facing reality. 

-- Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C. for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 - 2009.

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