Team Arlington and HEB discuss legislative issues with legislators

Posted by Jon Weist, on Sun February 03 2013 at 10:19 PM

The major priorities of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and the Metro 8 Chambers of Commerce were same issues on most everyone’s mind when the Arlington and HEB chambers visited with legislators, agency officials and business trade associations during the Team Arlington trip to Austin last week.

Water supply, transportation infrastructure, health care and education, education and education took up almost all of the conversations as chamber members and city, workforce and school officials met with all eight members of the legislative delegation who represent Arlington in the Texas House and Senate.

While there is not agreement on these issues – particularly expanding basic medical care to adults or what level of funding should be provided to public schools – there were healthy discussions on each of them over the course of the two-day meeting.

Members left Austin with a sense that there will be changes to testing and school rating system for public schools, though what that will look like is very murky at the moment. Everything from dramatically reducing the number of state-required tests from 15 to 3 – a proposal already filed by Representative Diane Patrick of Arlington – to renaming diplomas and the grading system for schools, has either been filed as legislation or proposed as the legislative session enters February.

Texas’ revenue situation is dramatically improved from two years ago, solving some problems but creating others as legislators attempt to fill big holes in the current budget, unwind some accounting gimmicks bring some spending that was kicked into the next budget year back into this budget. On top of that is a constitutional limit on spending arrived at a by a complex formula on which there is not general agreement. Potential efforts to begin addressing long-delayed water and transportation infrastructure problems by making one-time disbursements from the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund – the Rainy Day Fund – hinge on how the spending-limit issues get resolved.

Perhaps the most contentious discussion during the two-day trip was state leadership’s position on accepting federal Medicaid dollars in return for expanding the pool of covered residents. The federal Affordable Care Act expands Medicaid coverage to adults whose income is up to 133% of the federal poverty level, about $26,000 for a family of three. Current Medicaid coverage is extended to children, the disabled and the elderly in nursing homes, though none of the payments are considered generous and many physicians will not accept patients on Medicaid.

For the next three years, federal subsidies cover 100 percent of Medicaid health costs – the state would have to cover administrative charges – and then the subsidy gradually falls to 90 percent near 2020. Many legislators who oppose taking the Medicaid funding refer to the federal reduction as a reason to not take the funding, though they imply that the funding drops to zero. At the farthest projection available, the split stays at 90-10, which is an improvement on the current 60-40 split.

Two reports that project Medicaid costs are posted on the Chamber’s web site. One, from the Texas Hospital Association, is available by clicking here.

A state budget presentation prepared in November by the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association has Medicaid costs on slides 42-22. The presentation is on the web site or can be accessed here.

THA presented to the Team Arlington and HEB group during the Chamber’s trip, discussing the economic advantages of Medicaid expansion. That flier is posted on the web site and can be accessed by clicking here.

The Chamber has circulated its legislative agenda to all members of the legislative delegation who represent Arlington, and the Austin trip emphasized the priorities in that agenda. It’s posted on the Chamber’s web site and can be found here.

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