TUPELO • With the state’s budget flush with cash, it’s imperative that those funds are spent and invested wisely, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said Thursday.
He was a key speaker at the annual CREATE Foundation State of the Region meeting, where he spoke about the achievements of the state Legislature and some of the efforts underway for the next session on how to best use that money.
“We’re blessed, and a bit surprised, that we’re running about $900 million over in our budget for the state,” he said. “And we’ve been given about $1.8 billion by the federal government in the rescue plan. In addition, $1.6 billion into education and another $900 million went to the cities and counties. So between all of us, we got approximately $5 billion by the time you add it all up.
The reopening of businesses and schools as the pandemic has waned helped boost the state’s coffers far more than expected, Hosemann said.
“Those things have been positive,” he said. “But what we have seen are exceptional expenditures on cars, appliances, mobile homes ... they’re all delayed because it’s hard to get them. What happened was the supply chain got really distorted, people really wanted them and upped the price, and that brought in more tax dollars. But I don’t think anybody would have projected we’d have nearly a $1 billion in excess in the first week of June.”
But how and where to spend the money must be thought out carefully, he added.
“It’s a critical decision for us. We don’t want this to be one or two years; we want this to be one or two generations. So we’ll be talking to business leaders on how to spend those funds.”
As far using some of that money for Medicaid expansion – which is opposed by Gov. Tate Reeves and other state leaders – Hosemann said it’s time to move beyond labels and names and to do what’s best.
“I’ve asked people not to go by some moniker and to say, ‘I’m against the expansion;’” he said. “I’ll tell you what I’m for, I’m for working people having the ability to have health care. You’ve got a mom making $50,000 and a dad making $50,000 – which is good money – but she gets cancer, and it breaks the family.”
Mississippi is one of 12 states that hasn’t expanded access to Medicaid. The federal government pays about 80 cents on the dollar for Medicaid reimbursements in the state. An expansion would boost that to about 95 cents, roughly $600 million. However, opponents worry that when federal support decreases after two years, the state will not be able to afford the added expense.
The Kaiser Family Foundation estimated Medicaid expansion would cost Mississippi $290 million over two years before including the $600 million.
Hosemann said it’s time to talk about it.
He also addressed the argument that “government should get out of the health care business.”
“I try to remind people that since Johnson (signed Medicaid and Medicare into law in 1965,” we’ve had Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, the first Bush, Clinton, another Bush, Obama, Trump and now Biden – none of them tried to get out of the health care business,” Hosemann said. “Medicaid has been around since 1965. The government is not going to get out of the health care business. The thing we want to make sure is that our citizens that are working have affordable health care. How we get there is up for discussion. Don’t start with just, ‘No.” Start with, ‘How do we get there?’”