Gov. Asa Hutchinson today will add another potential victim to the list of potential damages from failure of the legislature to approve an appropriation for the Medicaid budget, as a minority of 10 senators is threatening to do — the Highway Department.
He’s scheduled a news conference at 2:30 p.m. to discuss the impact on highway funding. Huge, as another Republican might say. Hutchinson already was leaning on a rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul highway funding plan (no tax increases; shift money away from other state agencies from a supposed abundant surplus.) A $140 million-plus budget reduction (and untold ancillary losses from health industry job layoffs) will kill that plan. Yesterday, the announcements were about depletion of services for foster children and other critical needs.
Sen. Bart Hester, the meanest and loudest of the shut-it-down crowd, indicated on Twitter last night that he didn’t find the needs of the Highway Department persuasive.
If state jobs for the husbands of Sens. Cecile Bledsoe and Missy Irvin aren’t sufficient lures for their votes, then it might be time to review the Ernest Dumas theory that this is a moment ripe for a court declaration on whether the state Constitution REALLY requires a three-fourths vote on appropriation bills.
This is the relevant constitutional clause:
State expenses — Limitation — Exceptions.
§ 3. Excepting monies raised or collected for educational purposes, highway purposes, to pay Confederate pensions and the just debts of the State, the General Assembly is hereby prohibited from appropriating or expending more than the sum of Two and One-Half Million Dollars for all purposes, for any fiscal year; provided the limit herein fixed may be exceeded by the votes of three-fourths of the members elected to each House of the General Assembly
Dumas says the Arkansas Supreme Court once was presented on argument on approval of expenditure on a “just debt,” but dodged the question by saying it was the role of the legislature to define a just debt. Here, the legislature could declare paying for medical services a “just debt” and House and Senate leaders could declare the appropriation passed by a simple majority, easily obtainable. It would end the tyranny of the minority, rarely exercised and nearly always in a bad cause.