With the senate budget reflecting more of a Republican imprint (with more cuts than the Democratic house budget), legislators have focused their attention on Hunter and the house to see where they'll bend. But Hunter says the so-called reforms in the senate budget represent "the opposite of why I'm here."
The senate budget does hit harder than the house budget:
• The senate eliminates the cash stipend portion of the Disability Lifeline—a program for the permanently disabled—with a $184 million cut. The house version preserves the program's cash stipend, though at a reduced level, cutting it by 42 percent, an $83 million cut. The senate reduces the the Disability Lifeline health care program by $93 million—downsizing coverage from about 18,000 people to 12,000 people, while the house preserves it at current levels.
• The senate makes $345 million more in cuts to K-12 education, with teacher salary cuts and truancy penalties and a sharper higher ed tuition increase, 16 percent vs. 13 percent;
• And the senate makes more sweeping cuts to the Basic Health Plan, the subsidized state health insurance program for poor and low-income families. The senate cuts $195.8 million from the program, downsizing enrollment by 20,000 people and freezing it so that when people drop out, more new people can't join. (There are 145,000 people on the waiting list.) The house budget cuts $30 million less than the senate and cuts about 13,000 people from the program overall. And they don't block new enrollees. The problem with cordoning off enrollees is that the system ends up with a higher and higher risk pool, driving up costs—essentially working the opposite way that insurance pools are set up to work to save costs.
Asked about the senate's demand for more dramatic, long-term reforms, such as the freeze on Basic Health Plan enrollment and a cap on enrollment in health care for kids, Hunter says:
Just spending less money on education and children's health care, that's not reform, that's just spending less money. Spending less money on kid's health care and not giving a hand up to people that need help, that's not why I'm here. In fact, that's the opposite of why I'm here.
Hunter says, "my job is to deliver a balanced, responsible budget that takes in more than it spends and doesn't have goofy one-time money." He says, by necessity, "there will be reform baked into the budget" and cited a budget-related bill that had a hearing in the house ways and means committee this morning to rout out fraud in electronic cash cards for people on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.