During a pre-session conference Tuesday across from the Capitol, advocates from a variety of groups stressed the importance to them that the General Assembly renew a tax on hospital revenues scheduled to expire this year. The $200 million tax supplies funds that the federal government matches.
Without the renewal, the Medicaid system would need an additional $400 million at a time when it is already running a $300 million deficit with the tax in place.
In 2010, then-Gov. Sonny Perdue convinced lawmakers who were hesitant to hike taxes during a weak economy that a temporary tax would tide the state government over until things improved. They added a tax break for senior citizens to his proposal so they could argue they were supporting a tax reduction instead of the tax hike on hospitals.
Today, the economy is better but not fully recovered. Tax collections so far in the state’s fiscal year are behind projections, forcing more cuts and leaving nothing to fill the gap if the hospital tax expires.
“I’m a Republican. We don’t do taxes. We do fees. But this is a $700 million thing, and if we don’t do this, it will be disastrous,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody.
His comment about fees instead of taxes was a quip about efforts by Gov. Nathan Deal and other state leaders to call what the hospitals must pay a fee, even though it applies to all facilities and they get nothing in return for it.
Conservative legislators elected in recent years as part of the Tea Party movement are vowing to vote against it. Seventy have been elected since the tax became law in 2010, according to David Tatum, a lobbyist for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the state’s largest provider of children’s medical treatment.
“One of the challenges we have is educating the freshmen,” he said.
It’s unusual for so many child-advocate groups to focus on medical issues, according to Pat Willis, executive director for Voices for Georgia’s Children. But the groups’ leaders are recognizing that children are most often the patients.
In addition to the Medicaid funding, Willis said she’s focused on Deal’s efforts to restore 10 days to the school year for pre-k students and the reform of juvenile justice recommended by a commission he appointed.