Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Are the #AKLeg R's about to wimp out, again ...

In June, at the end of the Second Special Session, the Alaska Legislature passed HB 2001, the FY 2016 Operating Budget.  As passed, the legislation contained the following provision at p. 15, lines 25-28:
No money appropriated in this appropriation may be expended for services to persons who are eligible pursuant to 42 United States Code section 1396a(a)(10)A)(i)(VIII) and whose household modified adjusted gross income is less than or equal to one hundred thirty-three percent of the federal poverty guidelines.
Unlike others, this language was not preceded by the phrase "It is the intent of the legislature that ...," which commonly is understood to convey non-binding guidance similar to the passage of a legislative resolution.  Instead, as with the limitations on the use of state money for abortions immediately preceding this provision, the language is phrased in the strict prescriptive, "No money ... may be expended for ...."

At the time legislators explained that the language would prohibit the use of state funds to implement the Governor's proposal to accept Medicaid Expansion (which is made available under the referenced federal statute) without further action by the Legislature.  The reasons for such caution are manifest.  As the AP reported just this week, the costs of Medicaid Expansion in at least some states are skyrocketing beyond those anticipated at the time it was adopted (see "Medicaid Enrollment Surges, Stirs Worry About State Budgets").  In a state with significant budget issues already, that is the last thing Alaska needs.

Importantly, upon review the Governor did not veto the provision at the time he signed the legislation as he had the right to do under the second sentence of Art. 2, Sec. 15 of the Alaska Constitution ("The governor ... may, by veto, strike or reduce items in appropriation bills. He shall return any vetoed bill, with a statement of his objections, to the house of origin.") and which he did with other provisions.  Absent veto, the legislation became law at the time the Governor signed the bill.

Last week, the Governor announced that, despite signing the legislation specifically prohibiting the state from spending any state funds to do so, he intended to accept and implement Medicaid Expansion.  Just as I would anticipate in the event the Governor attempted to violate other provisions of the law, including the similar provision relating to state funding of abortions, I expected Legislative leadership, including the members of the House and Senate Finance Committees that vetted and inserted the language in HB 2001, immediately to file suit in court to prevent the Governor from going through with his intentions.  They enacted the law; they promised Alaskans they were protecting them by doing so. I would expect them to seek to enforce it.

Shockingly, however, they haven't.  None of them, not even the ones that promised Alaskans they were protecting them, have.  In doing so they have put at risk not only this legislation, but -- and focus on this John Coghill, Charlie Huggins and Mike Dunleavy -- also other, similarly enacted legislation, like the provision prohibiting state funding of abortions that immediately precedes it.

As I searched for an answer as to why legislators were failing to act to uphold their own legislation, earlier this week I had the following exchange with a former Majority Leader of the House of Representatives.

@kylejo574 Wait, we are going to rely now on Walker's AG and Juneau LegLegal to define legality? Isn't that what the courts are for?

Even more disappointing has been learning that some legislators who, as members of the Majority, voted for the legislation appear subsequently to have encouraged the Governor to ignore it.  This, for example, from KTUU's story on the Governor's action ("Walker expands medicaid without lawmakers"):
Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, said some legislators in her party are likely sighing with relief to not have to vote on the politically difficult but publicly popular issue. 
"Behind the scenes, there were many lawmakers that were encouraging him to go ahead and do it through executive proclamation," said McGuire, who has publicly supported expansion since her 2014 campaign for lieutenant governor. "It certainly takes the pressure off the Legislature. It puts the decision in the right person's hands."
As I have said on other occasions, personally I might vote also for Medicaid Expansion if done after or at the same time as the enactment of critically important Medicaid reforms and the costs fit within a sustainable budget.  Some in the Legislature adopted the same view and said they were providing for exactly that route by enacting the provision, deferring further action until reforms and limits could be put in place.

Now, however, just as they have before on other budget measures, legislative R's are proving that although they talk a good game, they come up woefully short when its time for the rubber to meet the road.

All of the so-called "fiscal conservatives" that voted for HB 2001, and now are rolling over as the Governor flouts the law they enacted, should be ashamed.  And now that the precedent is being established, those that think it will be different next time when this or a subsequent Governor ignores the abortion or other, similar provisions of future legislative actions, should think again.

As they did following the 2012 election when they vowed to enact sustainable budgets, the legislative R's -- all of them, because any of them could go to court to enforce the law they passed -- are about to wimp out by ignoring their own law.  If they do, explain to me why anyone should trust them again.