Governor defends session, Medicaid cuts

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 14, 2004

MEMPHIS, Tenn. &045;&045; Gov. Haley Barbour defended the action of this year’s legislative session Friday, including the controversial Medicaid cuts that affected 47,000 individuals.

&uot;It’s a myth that the Legislature didn’t do much this session,&uot; said Barbour, speaking at a tri-state convention of newspaper professionals. Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen also spoke during the panel discussion on economic development, which was moderated by Pete Johnson, co-chairman of the Delta Regional Authority.

Barbour, who is six months into his first term, said lawmakers this year were able to pass legislation to boost economic development.

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The Legislature passed a major overhaul of workforce development &045;&045; the first goal to come from a job creation summit the new administration held in January. The Legislature also came back in special session to pass a comprehensive tort reform package.

&uot;It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t easy,&uot; he said. &uot;There were some who weren’t for it, but they put their leaderhsip positions ahead of their personal preference because the majority was for it.&uot;

Barbour had also pledged no new taxes &045;&045; a difficult feat in a year with a multi-million dollar shortfall.

The governor acknowledged that balancing the budget took some tough decisions.

&uot;The Legislature enacted $231 million of savings,&uot; he said. &uot;There were some hard decisions made.&uot;

Among them was a much smaller increase for K-12 funding &045;&045; just 4.6 percent this year &045;&045; and no increase for community colleges, as well as $41 million in savings in corrections.

But the most controversial cuts have come in Medicaid, although Barbour noted that the state made improvements to the program at the same time, including a provision to give every Medicaid recipient an annual physical, at which time they will also be reviewed for eligibility.

Those moved off of Medicaid already qualify for Medicare, Barbour said.

&uot;I am confident most of them will get better benefits,&uot; he said.

And Barbour said extending the deadline for the cuts &045;&045; from July 1 to Sept. 15 &045;&045; will help better inform the public about the cuts.

&uot;It’s the right thing to do,&uot; he said of the cuts, &uot;but it’s crucial to get it right.&uot;