A special session to consider changes to the state’s Medicaid expansion program will begin April 6, Gov. Hutchinson told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette yesterday. The fiscal session is set to begin April 13.
As perhaps a sign of how dire the prospects for getting 75 percent of lawmakers in the House and, especially, the Senate, Hutchinson and his chief of staff Michael Lamoureux told the Democrat-Gazette that they are studying the legal case for moving forward with Arkansas Works, as the administration is now calling the private option, without reaching three-fourths majorities.
“We’ve always just done the three-fourths on all of the appropriations, but there’s a legal argument or a constitutional interpretation that that could be required just on the first one and the members could in that first appropriation choose [to] go to the two-thirds standards after the first one just passes with the three-fourths,” he said.
Ernie Dumas has explored the legal options for moving forward with expansion if the legislature doesn’t provide the 75 percent support. In depth here.
The 1874 Constitution said the legislature could pass appropriations by a majority as long as the money paid for schools, just debts and the state’s necessary expenses or repelled invasions and insurrections. Anything else took two-thirds. But there was no reliable definition of just debts or necessary expenses. There still isn’t.
Futrell took office in 1933 and put Amendment 19, which he had written, to the voters. It said a majority could pass appropriations as long as they spent taxes that were levied to pay for education, highways, Confederate pensions or the state’s just debts. Other spending would need three-fourths.
Well, all the taxes going into the general fund pay mostly for education, so you could argue logically that all appropriations from general revenues (like state Medicaid funds) need only a majority, but the Supreme Court has not extended it that far.
After Futrell got his amendment ratified in 1934, his philosophy changed overnight when President Roosevelt threatened to cut off all aid to Arkansas. From rabid foe of taxing and spending he became a pleader for more of them. The legislature obliged.
But a number of his spending bills couldn’t get the three-fourths majority in one house or the other. On one day the Senate passed seven appropriations that were not for schools, highways or Confederate pensions but fell short of the three-fourths vote. Lt. Gov. Lee Cazort declared them passed anyway as just debts or necessary spending. His view was that Gov. Futrell wrote Amendment 19 and if he did not think the bills got enough votes he could not sign them. Futrell signed them.