Friday, 13 September 2013 00:00
The words get flung around in editorials, but please don’t try to tell me that New York has the “worst” state legislature or the most “dysfunctional” state legislature. Legislators get arrested and wear wires on each other, mystery money flows into political campaigns and good ideas often stop dead without public explanation. But New York isn’t the bottom of the legislative barrel. Not as long as there is Florida.
Florida, by law, has prohibited the state from participating in implementing the new federal Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), and has even rejected federal funds to help with the transition. At the end of May, Florida legislators passed a law suspending the State Insurance Commissioner’s ability to regulate health insurance rates or to negotiate lower rates for two years. Included was a provision requiring rate increase notices from insurance companies to include wording that blames raises on ACA. They will do anything to sabotage ACA, even though it may be the only hope for more than a million Floridians with pre-existing conditions and other difficult circumstances to get insurance.
What do you call that? What name do you put on that? How cynical and hollow do you have to be to do that to your own people?
Florida is hardly the only state legislature trying to score dogma purity points at the expense of its own residents, even if it costs the state many millions of dollars, and even if it thrusts the state government into people’s homes and personal lives.
Four states are not only turning down millions of federal dollars to expand Medicaid for the most vulnerable people, but are also significantly cutting back the program. Wisconsin alone is chopping 92,000 people, including 87,000 parents and caretaker relatives and 5,000 homeless children, from Medicaid and sending them into the insurance marketplace.
It isn’t about budget savings. North Carolina cost itself $700 million in federal funds for its 170,000 long-term unemployed residents when it lowered the maximum weekly benefit to $350 and cut eligibility from six months to as few as three months.
It isn’t about good business or creating jobs. Though Texas has the highest percentage of citizens without health insurance, the state legislature there has also refused to accept federal money to expand health care coverage, putting them in conflict with Chambers of Commerce and corporations that would love to shift health care costs to the government.
It is a national experiment in idealogy, and in the obedience of elected officials to those they perceive as their bosses. Though surveys consistently show Americans becoming more socially tolerant and more accepting of coordinated effort to solve major problems, state governments across the country are heading the other way, and fast. State legislatures are in a race to bring about the lowest investment in infrastructure and public education, the lowest pay, the fewest health and environmental protections. The most punishment of those who have less.
We can’t build a wall around New York. Standards lowered around the country will lower them here. You will hear New York politicians complaining that this state is out of step with the rest of the country.
In New York, eight counties, 13 towns and three cities have been designated by the State Comptroller as “fiscally stressed.” Projected state tax revenues are sketchy. We face challenges in school funding, road funding, sewage funding, everything funding.
Governor Cuomo and some state legislators are already talking up a state income tax cut as the big-ticket item for 2014.
There are no walls.
Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org