by Jim Nintzel
Republican state lawmakers were finally releasing details of their spending plan for the upcoming year earlier this week—and, to no great surprise, the proposals are brutal to anyone who cares about the citizens of the state.
Among the lowlights:
• All-day kindergarten is gone.
• KidsCare, the program that provides health insurance to children in households below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, is gone. That means we’ll lose a lot of federal dollars that come into the state because the feds provide a 3-1 match for the program.
• Healthy Arizona, the program that provides health insurance to people below the federal poverty level, is gone, with eligibility rolled back to one-third of the federal poverty level. If you’re a single mom with two kids making more than roughly $6,100 a year, you will no longer qualify for state-subsidized health insurance.
Even the Arizona Chamber of Commerce is against that one. Executive Director Glenn Hamer—a former executive director of Arizona Republican Party—says the move is just plain foolish.
“If you’re taking 300,000 people off of health insurance,
it doesn’t mean they won’t receive care,” Hamer says. “Federal law requires that care be provided in the emergency room for people who go there for health-care needs. It’s going to be covered one way or another. That’s a highly inefficient, extremely expensive way to provide care.”
Hamer says that ends up increasing costs for hospitals, which leads to a “hidden health-care tax.”
“What winds up happening is those costs are passed on to private insurance, private insurance passes those costs on to the private sector and the cost of insurance goes up, which means fewer businesses can afford to provide coverage, which means that fewer Arizonans will have coverage,” he says.
And, to top it off, hospitals also lose more money and have to raise their rates or close.
Whether it’s even legal remains to be seen, since voters set the eligibility standards, so the conventional thinking is that only voters can approve a decrease in eligibility.
But Rep. John Kavanagh, who heads the House Appropriations Committee, says he believes lawmakers are on solid legal ground in reducing the eligibility, arguing that voters only meant to use money from a tobacco lawsuit settlement to cover the health-care costs. The initiative plainly states that the state should use other funds once the tobacco money runs out, but Kavanagh says he’s found a loophole because the intiatitive called for the use of “other available funds."
“We are $3.3 billion in the hole, so there are no available funds,” says Kavanagh.
• The Department of Juvenile Corrections is gone, with kids sent back to their home counties for incarceration and the cost passed along to county governments, which will have to raise the taxes that state lawmakers are too cowardly to hike.
And this is just the tip of the spear that’s being plunged into the heart of state government.
If all of this disturbs you as much as it disturbs us, you should pick up the phone right now and call Republican lawmakers that are supporting this plan at their toll-free number, 1-800-352-8404. And then make another call to Gov. Jan Brewer at 1-(800) 253-0883.
If you’ve never made a call like this before, now is the time.