Gov. Haley Barbour and Speaker of the House Billy McCoy’s battle over
how to solve the $90 million shortage in the state’s Medicaid budget
has little to do with Medicaid. It is simply a game of political
chicken in which each is waiting to see if the other will flinch.
Gov. Haley Barbour and Speaker of the House Billy McCoy’s battle over how to solve the $90 million shortage in the state’s Medicaid budget has little to do with Medicaid. It is simply a game of political chicken in which each is waiting to see if the other will flinch.
Gov. Barbour, a Republican, wants an increased hospital assessment approved to make up the $90 million shortfall.
Speaker Billy McCoy, a Democrat, is leading the charge for a tax increase on tobacco to make up the difference.
Gov. Barbour has drawn harsh criticism for his opposition to the tobacco tax, considering his past career as a lobbyist for the tobacco industry.
The governor did tell the Mississippi Press Association at its annual convention in Biloxi in June that if his tax study panel recommended a tax increase on tobacco, which he anticipates, he wouldn’t stand in the way. Note that he didn’t say he would support it, just that he wouldn’t block it. But the governor is determined to stand in McCoy’s way for as long as necessary to win this game of chicken.
Barbour also told the Press Association that he believes with a tax increase on tobacco more people will simply leave the state to make their tobacco purchases.
He also argued that a few other states actually collected less money after raising the tobacco tax after so many people gave up smoking due to the expense.
Isn’t that the point. The more people you can discourage from smoking, the less costs for Medicaid in the long run.
McCoy has been equally stubborn and unrelenting. He refuses to take up the matter of the hospital tax in his chamber, demanding the Senate act on the tobacco increase instead.
Lt. Governor Phil Bryant, a Republican who has far more to lose than either McCoy or Barbour due to his future political ambitions, is planted firmly in the middle of this dangerous game.
He has helped the hospital assesment plan get approved in the Senate, but refuses to put the tobacco increase on the table for his chamber to consider, at least for now.
The reality is they are all right and wrong, but too partisan to compromise.
The early tax returns on the new budget year are down considerably – almost $1 million a day by some projections. At that rate, the $90 million shortfall in the Medicaid budget is a mere drop in the bucket as to the shortfall the overall budget might get hit with.
The ongoing argument over whether to increase the tobacco tax or the hospital assessment seems childish when in the end, the reality is they will both likely be needed.
Bryant and Barbour will both deliver strong words regarding their Medicaid views Thursday, July 31 as they conclude this year’s political speaking under the Founders’ Square pavillion at the Neshoba County Fair.
“Compromise” isn’t likely to be among their words, as this game of “chicken” seems destined for a crash ending.
You may email Joel McNeece at email@example.com