Despite the flow of billions of federal stimulus dollars to strengthen health care in Georgia, the governor has proposed a 10 percent cut in Medicaid reimbursements to hospitals and six percent to physicians. This action could have a devastating effect on Georgia’s already financially strapped hospitals, especially those in rural areas.
Because of the stimulus package, the matching rate for Medicaid is nearly $3 in federal funds for every $1 raised at the state level. So the governor’s planned reduction of $255 million in state funding would wind up costing Georgia $750 million in federal funds. According to testimony before the Appropriations Subcommittee, it is estimated that if these cuts are imposed, Georgia could lose 20 of its critical access hospitals and two to three midsized hospitals.
Earlier this session, the governor proposed a 1.6 percent health care provider tax, which failed because of legislative opposition. Apparently, the governor’s displeasure with that failure is one reason for his new proposal for Medicaid cuts. With many rural hospitals already on financial life support, legislative budget writers are seeking ways to avoid the governor’s proposed cuts.
March 12 was the 30th day of the 2009 legislative session, also known as “cross-over” day because it was the deadline for legislation to pass the House and still be considered by the Senate this year, and vice versa. Some of the measures receiving House approval this week were:
•HB 23, which would ban teenage drivers from sending text messages or making calls on their cell phones while driving.
•HB 44, which would require at least a fourth of all state departments to justify their entire budgets to the legislature in a given year. This is a start, but actually all departments should engage in “zero based” budgeting every year.
•HB 160, which would put an additional $200 fine on “super speeders,” motorists who are convicted of driving more than 85 mph on a four-lane highway or more than 75 on a two-lane road. The bill’s sponsor claimed the revenues from the extra fees would go toward trauma care funding, but revenues cannot be designated without changing the Constitution. The state is expecting a big “payday” from this new law, but there are more than 250,000 unlicensed drivers who cannot pay their license reinstatement fees now, and HB 160 would exacerbate that problem.
•HB 228, which would reorganize the massive state Department of Human Resources by moving Public Health and Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Addictive Diseases to a new Department of Public and Behavioral Health Services. The Department of Community Health would continue as a regulatory and payer agency for Medicaid, PeachCare and the State Health Benefit Plan. The remaining Department of Human Services would oversee the Department of Family and Children Services and Aging. This bill takes one large bureaucracy and creates two new ones.
•HB 243, which would eliminate the year-long, rigorous program of National Board Certification for public school teachers and the 10 percent salary increase incentive that goes along with it. This legislation sends the wrong message to educators and those who plan to become teachers. Approximately 2,500 Georgia teachers have gone through this program because they know it will improve their skills in the classroom and benefit our students.
•HB 480, which would eliminate the yearly ad valorem tax on automobiles that is due on the owner’s birthday and replace the tax with a one-time title fee of 7 percent of the purchase price, not to exceed $2,000. This bill is still a work in progress as it moves to the Senate.
•HB 481, which would provide a tax credit for businesses that hire unemployed workers and temporarily suspend the fees charged to new businesses for filing incorporation papers and similar business documents.
•HB 482, which would eliminate the state inventory tax charged to businesses.
•HB 484, which would exempt the one-year residency requirement for HOPE Scholarship eligibility for the children of active duty military personnel.
Both the House and Senate approved final versions of the supplemental budget for fiscal year 2009, which ends June 30. The $18.9 billion proposal reflects approximately $2 billion in spending cuts due to a severe downturn in revenues over the past year. Despite the federal stimulus/bailout funding making its way to Georgia, this budget includes $185 million in education cuts that will have to be borne by local property tax increases.
The new budget restores the $428 million in homeowner tax relief grants that had been cut by the governor, saving the average Georgia homeowner $200 to $300 in property taxes. The governor signed HB 118 into law March 13.
Rep. Alan Powell (D-Hartwell) represents the 29th District (Franklin, Hart and Madison counties) in the Georgia House of Representatives. Contact him at 507 Coverdell Office Building, Atlanta, GA 30334; by phone at 404-656-0202 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visitwww.alanpowell.net.