Gov. Mike Beebe met reporters this morning to explain the deal his administration cut with Sen. Jane English, previously an adamant opponent of Obamacare, to provide the critical Senate vote for continuing appropriations for the Obamacare Medicaid expansion in Arkansas for another year. The “reforms” English will claim she won in state workforce programs? AEDC Director Grant Tennille talked about them at the Arkansas Times Festival of Ideas last year.

The Tea Party with which English has long been aligned will be back in 2015 to try to kill the Medicaid program. In the meanwhile, she’ll claim influence in spending $15 to $24 million a year in workforce training money. Perhaps Pulaski Tech in her backyard could put some of that money to good use. The deal includes at least $3.8 million in new money for English’s pet cause.


Meanwhile, the House convenes this afternoon and at least some uncertainty continues on the vote in the first outing for the appropriation bill. Some Democrats, for example, still have reservations about lower private insurance reimbursement rates for specialists. [UPDATE: they struck a deal, see below]

David Ramsey reports from the Capitol: 


The group of Democrats, threatening to vote present, have struck a deal with Blue Cross and will vote for the private option. Blue Cross will pay the same rates for the same procedure codes starting July 1. This will create parity, though will likely mean a small decrease in marketplace reimbursements for family practice doctors.]

Beebe explained the deal to reporters:


The whole workforce thing has been fragmented among a bunch of different agencies and it hasn’t been performance based, it hasn’t been tied to programs where you’re actually showing that the workforce training by 2-year colleges or tech schools or the workforce development folks has actually been geared toward real job creation in conjunction with business and industry. I’ve been talking about it for a while. One of the two missions of our 2-year colleges is to be responsive to the needs of business and industry. This really does solidify that and put it one spot and make it performance-based where folks are going to be able to actually have to show what their programs are doing. Jane has been trying to do that for a long time, she told me. She said the previous governor never listened to her. The really good thing about this is she’s not asking for anything for her or her district. This is a statewide deal and she wants to make sure that our workforce training programs actually train workforce.”

I asked whether English would have any control or say-so over how the money for these reforms was spent. 

No. It’s all going to be done through AEDC and the proper channels. She’s not asking for anything specifically for herself. What she’s trying to do is highlight the need for a coordinated effort to train workers for business and industry through our existing training program. 

Tennille said that these reforms align with ideas that he and AEDC have been pushing. Tennille said that English herself has been arguing for these reforms for years, and took this vote as an opportunity to “light a fire” under these issues. 

Beebe said this was not a bitter pill like the Bell amendment.

We’re coordinating better and we’re going to do things that require accountability. And we’re going to make sure that the money is really going to what it’s supposed to be going for and that’s legitimate and appropriate workforce training. 

Beebe acknowledged that “probably some” of the 2-year colleges wouldn’t be happy with the changes. He cited the University of Arkansas Community College of Morrilton as an example of a community college that “has done a great job of doing precisely this thing, both with manufacturing and with new industries.”