The past week was full of new developments that possibly signals the start of a new emphasis on the major pre-session issues of Medicaid and tax reform. Those are the two key questions that everyone expected to consume the General Assembly in 2013, but which have not been the topic of much official debate. Although, apparently, legislators have been hard at work behind the scenes on both issues.
On the Medicaid front, Governor Mike Beebe met with federal Health and Human Services officials to discuss the possibility of using federal Medicaid funding to help subsidize private insurance premiums for Arkansans with incomes below 138% of the federal poverty limit. This option is finding quite a bit of positive feedback from Republicans who hold the majority in the House and Senate. Any decision to appropriate state funds for either adding Arkansans to the Medicaid program or subsidizing private insurance will require 75% of the House and Senate to agree.
By helping these neediest of Arkansans obtain insurance coverage with federally subsidized private insurance 250,000 Arkansans could receive insurance coverage while the state would not grow its Medicaid rolls and hospitals will be able to reduce losses from charity care.
Our state's hospitals are facing reduced reimbursement rates from Medicare patients and when this is coupled with continued massive losses from charity care, many of our healthcare systems are struggling to survive much less expand and improve care. Therefore, any efforts to reduce charity care by moving uninsured Arkansans into an insurance plan will be a tremendous benefit to hospitals. In Northwest Arkansas, our hospitals employ thousands and are a major quality of life component and driver of the local economy. The Chamber strongly supports efforts to reduce charity care losses for our hospitals, whether it is through an expansion of Medicaid or supporting private insurance coverage for low-income Arkansans.
Also this week, Speaker of the House Davy Carter told the Revenue and Tax Committee that he felt the General Assembly could pass up to $150 million in tax cuts during the session without cutting the state's budget.
This is the first person in legislative leadership to offer a value for total tax reductions. Governor Beebe has proposed cutting the grocery tax, but only as selected state funding commitments expire (like desegregation funding for Pulaski County public schools).
Proposed changes to state income taxes were also addressed this week when Representative Charlie Collins (R, Washington County) filed bills detailing his recommendations. Collins has long argued that reducing the state's income tax would make Arkansas more attractive for new businesses. He has offered two options for the legislature to consider. HB1586 would gradually lower all tax rates, including the highest bracket which kicks in at $34,000. For residents earning more than $34,000 their income tax would fall to 6% from the current 7% level. HB1585 proposes identical tax brackets as HB1586, but HB1585 would phase in the reductions more quickly. So what would this mean for someone with $50,000 adjusted annual income? Using a very simplistic analysis this may equate to around $20 more per paycheck.
There are a number of other tax cut options on the table as well. The Chamber endorses two tax cuts that support manufacturing in Arkansas and we encourage you to join us in advocating for their passage.
HB1218 - Eliminates the state sales tax on utilities used by manufacturers. Only one of our surrounding states tax manufacturer's utilities, which places Arkansas at a competitive disadvantage in both recruitment and retention of manufacturers. In order to have a diverse economy, Northwest Arkansas must continue to support and protect its manufacturers by creating an operating environment that allows them to be the most competitive in the world. This bill continues a steady reduction in this tax and improves our ability to recruit and retain jobs.
SB334 - Eliminates the sales tax on parts used to repair or replace equipment used by manufacturers. This reduction is important to retain industry in Northwest Arkansas since many of our local manufacturers not only have competitors from around the world, they also have other facilities in the United States When a company is looking to expand production or make their facilities more efficient we want them to choose their Northwest Arkansas location to improve and expand instead of moving production to somewhere less costly. Reducing the sales tax on repair and replacement parts and equipment gives the state an advantage that might save hundreds if not thousands of existing jobs.
CALL TO ACTION - I ENCOURAGE YOU TO JOIN WITH US AND CONTACT YOUR LEGISLATORS IN SUPPORT OF HB1218 AND SB334. WE MAKE IT EASY TO SUBMIT AN EMAIL TO THE REVENUE AND TAX COMMITTEE.
If you want to see a list of committees, their members and pending legislation you can find that information HERE.