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Monahan: Balanced Budget?

Monahan: Balanced Budget?

Because the Feds give three matching funds for every Medicaid dollar – plus the extra money the Feds are throwing at us for the next couple years for Obamacare – if we don’t come up with that $86 million pronto, the state will actually come up short $416 million.

You Thought They Balanced the Budget? Think Again


Say someone offered you three or four dollars if you showed them you had a dollar bill? A no-brainer, right? Apparently not in the befuddled halls of the Roundhouse.

Here’s the story:

The bean counters are now reporting that the state Medicaid budget is $86 million short. The healthcare program for low-income New Mexicans was expanded by President Obama and Gov. Susana Martinez signed off on it.

Because the Feds give three matching funds for every Medicaid dollar – plus the extra money the Feds are throwing at us for the next couple years for Obamacare – if we don’t come up with that $86 million pronto, the state will actually come up short $416 million.

With the horrific economic impact such a drastic cut in spending would have on an already ailing economy, you’d think Santa Fe would be in a rush to fill the budget gap, take the federal match and keep Medicaid up and running at full strength.

But getting $86 million from a state budget already ravaged by the collapse in oil revenue, weak tax collections from a weak economy and years of excessive tax cutting, has the austerity hawks in the Martinez administration and Legislature looking at cutting Medicaid rather than fully funding it – and, in the process, leaving that $416 million on the table.

If reimbursement rates for medical professionals are slashed dramatically, imagine how many doctors will join the exodus fleeing our state. Reducing care for the 850,000 low income New Mexicans who receive Medicaid benefits could mean an even less healthy and less prepared work force. So much for economic development.

Ironically, healthcare has been one of the few sectors showing job growth. If this Medicaid debacle is not resolved, that’ll end. And don’t forget, this state already has the highest jobless rate in the nation.

Before the conservatives go off the rails over Medicaid being too generous and that it can withstand severe cuts, keep in mind that Medicaid covers single adults who make up to $16,242 a year. A family of four making up to $33,465 qualifies.

Our economy and wages are so deep in the cellar that it’s expected that well over 900,000 New Mexicans – nearly half the state’s population – will qualify for Medicaid by July 2017. This is not a population with alternatives. 

The recent legislative session ended with a round of self-congratulations and back-slapping, but now we are seeing that the budget that the Legislature crafted was made with popsicle sticks and tissue paper. They dodged the heavy lifting necessary to ensure proper funding for Medicaid or the rest of state government, for that matter.

Behind this Medicaid crisis looms political nonsense. Namely, the insistence by Martinez and her fellow Republicans that taxes can never, ever be raised for any reason.

Never mind if it could mean you get a ride to the cemetery instead of the ER.

Martinez reluctantly signed onto the Medicaid expansion. A number of other Republican governors refused. She had no choice because of the hundreds of thousands in need here. If she had opposed the expansion she might have lost her re-election bid. Now that she is no longer running, Martinez is pursuing her national ambitions and has already put the state in her rear-view mirror.

Hope is not a sound budget strategy, but that’s what the governor and the Legislature have given us. They hope oil prices jump and they hope the economy reinvigorates resulting in a leap in state revenue that – voila! – solves the Medicaid crunch.

If not, don’t worry. It’s just a bunch of poor people who don’t vote anyway. And they certainly don’t contribute to campaigns because they’re too busy scrounging for money to pay for their meds.

The mismanagement in Santa Fe is bad enough during good times, but in bad times like these, it is truly dangerous.

True and responsible leadership in Santa Fe would have a handful of House Republicans join with Democrats to raise the gasoline tax to begin solving the crisis. They could also have agreed to sweep into the budget millions of dollars for pet projects approved by the Legislature but left gathering dust, sometimes for years.

In these ever more challenging times, the state desperately needs leadership, but right now we’d settle for someone who knows that getting three or four bucks in return for spending one is a good deal.

Joe Monahan is a veteran of New Mexico politics. His daily blog can be found at joemonahan.com.


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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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