Critics — chiefly in Republican ranks — have complained ever since the 2009 passage of a big tobacco tax increase to pay for health initiatives that it was a bait-and-switch to shore up other government spending. Now comes a study by Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families to support that point of view.
Gov. Mike Beebe never claimed the money was dedicated strictly to the programs targeted, but according to the Advocates, two programs never got anything — a children’s health insurance expansion and an electronic medical records system. Most other programs were underfunded, including a substance abuse program for pregnant women and teens.
The shortages for expected beneficiaries occurred even as the 56-cent increase in a pack of cigarettes produced more money than expected. Children were the big losers. But who, other than the Advocates, speaks for them? The losses for many programs were effectively tripled by the loss of federal matching money.
Full report here. The summary release is on the jump. I’ve asked the governor’s office for a response.
UPDATE: Jason Tolbert sends along a clip of the governor insisting in 2009 that, while all the health package had to depend on general revenue performance (which has been below expectations) that ALL programs would receive some level of support.
UPDATE II: A response through Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample:
* The health information did get funding after all, but from federal stimulus money rather than tobacco tax money.
* “Nobody regrets more than the primary sponsor of the original ARKids legislation [Beebe] that the recession made it impossible to fund the ARKids increase.” The recession made that unavoidable, DeCample said, particularly because of the size of the expenditure. It was an “all or nothing” decision. In a desire to get as many of the other programs started to some degree, an expensive increase in ARKids was a casualty. “He’s said all along that he regrets that,” DeCample. He also said some programs shorted last year have received money in the current fiscal year and some spending, in the trauma system, for example, hasn’t begun because regulatory steps must be completed first.