State health and welfare administrators Wednesday defended their agencies against deep cuts proposed by Republican legislative leaders in the second day of hearings aimed at closing a mid-year budget deficit.
Intended to get a jump on the budget-balancing process before the legislative session opens Monday, the House and Senate appropriations committee meetings have mostly served to further outline the deep divisions between the GOP plan and Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano’s proposal.
Rep. Kirk Adams, R-Mesa, and other members grilled the deputy director of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System about whether a voter-approved expansion of the state’s Medicaid program was to blame for its growth. AHCCCS now provides health coverage for more than 1 million Arizonans.
Tom Betlach said the ballot measure, which increased the income level for AHCCCS eligibility, has actually saved the state $400 million by pulling in federal funds and replacing a costly state-funded program.
Adams and other lawmakers asked for proof.
“I just don’t buy that. I’d like to see those numbers,” said House Appropriations Committee chairman Russell Pearce, R-Mesa. “It’s grown exponentially. We’ve qualified people who otherwise wouldn’t have qualified.”
Pearce and Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Bob Burns, R-Peoria, have targeted more than $30 million in cuts to AHCCCS, including an $11.9 million lump-sum reduction and eliminating smaller programs providing dental care to elderly nursing home residents and prenatal care to low-income women.
Many of the programs, like KidsCare, also bring in two or three times as much federal funding as the state’s share.
“When you look at the benefits, you also have to take into account the impact if you remove those benefits,” Betlach said. “You can’t just say, ‘Let’s remove that benefit,’ and the person will never need services.”
Legislative leaders want to cut agency budgets by $630 million to make up the bulk of what they say is a $970 million deficit in the state’s $10.6 billion spending plan.
The governor would shave about $214 million from state agencies and puts this year’s deficit at $870 million.
The rest would be made up by tapping the state’s reserve “rainy day” fund and, in Napolitano’s proposal, financing school construction.
The governor said the Pearce-Burns plan cuts too deeply.
“I think the chairmen’s version is very harmful,” she said. “It balances the budget on the backs of children.”
Some Republicans view the budget challenges as an opportunity to do away with unnecessary spending and trim the size of state government. The state constitution requires a balanced budget.
“I haven’t seen a cut yet that I didn’t like,” Sen. Karen Johnson, R-Mesa, said during a lunch recess. “Where in the Constitution does it say you are entitled to health care? We cannot be everything to everybody.”