Though the House of Representatives ended its week on a low note, as Democrats filibustered plans to bring forth a General Fund void of adequate Medicaid funding Thursday, House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) was enthusiastic.
“I think it was a productive week,” Hubbard said.
Hubbard celebrated the House’s passage of a slew of bills, as well as committee work to move the General Fund onto the House floor Tuesday, but was fatalistic in his assessment of how the General Fund will play out.
According to Hubbard, Medicaid has long been syphoning an enormous portion of the state’s General Fund allocations to the detriment of other departments. He noted that most House Republicans don’t have the appetite to continue providing the increases the program has become accustomed to.
“The money to appropriate is there,” Hubbard said. “The problem is that Medicaid wants all of it and then some.”
Hubbard noted that he expects Gov. Robert Bentley to call a special session if the General Fund fails to fully fund Medicaid, but said it would be a mistake to call legislators back immediately after the close of the regular session. He added that it might be prudent to see how the November General Election plays out, as changes to healthcare may be on the horizon.
Along with the prison system, Medicaid takes up roughly 62 percent of the General Fund budget. The only way to fund it at the desired amount, Hubbard said, would be to cut about $85 million from other departments’ budgets – Medicaid will receive an additional $15 million this year, but still faces a shortfall of roughly $100 million.
“We’re not going to fund Medicaid at the expense of educating our kids,” Hubbard said.
During the session, Rep. John Knight (D-Montgomery) mentioned that the state should look into raising more revenue, likely through tax hikes. However, Hubbard noted that moves to increase revenue from last year’s cigarette tax increase was difficult to pass and doesn’t believe House members would be willing to fight it out again this year.
Though he believes the Democrats will filibuster the budget when it comes to the floor next week, Hubbard still thinks bringing it now is a good idea as lawmakers are still angling for passage before spring break.