When the Georgia House of Representatives takes up the 2013-14 budget – its most pressing duty of the legislative session — Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson) expects the biggest challenge to be in health care.
“It’s going to be the shortfall in Medicaid funding, about $350 million,” Benton commented last week. When asked where the legislature would find that money, he replied, “I guess they’ll go to cut other agencies again.”
But Benton also predicted that there will be strong sentiment — and strong opposition — to renewing the hospital bed “provider fee” that has gone to meet Medicaid expenses but which has expired.
“That looks to be where they’re going to go for a big portion of (the revenue shortfall),” he conceded.
How that will play out remains to be seen.
“You’ve got folks (in the House) that don’t like the idea of the bed tax, but the hospitals are supporting it,” Benton said. For every $1 of money raised for Medicaid, the federal government will give Georgia $2.
The two-for-one return will not mollify everyone, however, Benton predicted.
“You’ve got people in the legislature who are totally opposed to any kind of tax, whether it’s income tax, sales tax or a bed tax,” he said.
Benton said he expects to see “something pushed on the ethics front.”
“The Speaker has said he would support legislation that would do away with any gifts,” he said. “The Senate is looking at a $100 maximum.”
Whether ethics reform will come in the form of House rules or in legislation is yet to be determined. Benton recalled that the legislature created a “big stink” when it passed a bill requiring all elected officials to report all campaign contributions.
“The locals didn’t like that, because they don’t raise any money,” he said, “but when they’re late with filing, they get hit with a pretty big fine.”
On other subjects:
•Education: “I’m afraid to predict,” Benton said. “Every time I think education will be left alone, somebody jumps out there with a new bill.”
•Taxation: “I’ve heard that there might be some going back and looking at the tax bill we passed last year and doing a little tweaking. I don’t know what the tweaking would be.”
•Gun control: “There has been a knee-jerk reaction by the people in Washington, but I don’t look for the people in Georgia to change it.” Benton said he would likely support Sen. Frank Ginn’s bill that would allow Georgia carry permit holders to add an education rider to their permits that would encourage South Carolina and other states to recognize and honor the Georgia permits.
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