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Posts tagged: FMAP

Gives us an F, give us a MAP…

For weeks, the prospects for another special session in Washington state to deal with a budget crisis revolved around an acronym that became a four-letter word: FMAP.

Pronounced EFF-map, never fuh-map, it stands for federal medical assistance percentages, but was generally referred to as extra Medicaid money. It may have been the most important word in state politics last week as Washington got perilously close to a special session or across-the-board budget whacks. How that happened provides state officials with a valuable lesson in what not to do.

Didier on FMAP: More pork

While state officials were breathing a sigh of relief that the additional Medicaid money seemed to be moving through Congress months with U.S. Sen. Patty Murray’s help — staving off a state budget problem and the need for a possible special session in Olympia — one of her campaign opponents was blasting it as another “bail out.”

Republican Clint Didier said Murray was rewarding state Democrats, who control the Legislature and the governor’s office for fiscal irresponsibility.

“So now we have Sen. Murray passing another bail-out, but this time she’s bailing out her own Democrat Party in Washington state, and rewarding them for their fiscal irresponsibility. It’s what we’ve come to expect from an incumbent ‘bring home the pork’ politician. It’s hard to read it as anything other than another calculated move by a Senator whose reelection is in jeopardy. She’s not only trying to save some for votes for herself, but also reward the irresponsible spending by the State Democrats who dug themselves into a budget crisis in the Legislature. We wouldn’t have this budget crisis here if the state legislators had done their job and made the budget cuts that are needed.”

Didier suggested that cuts could have been made lots of places, not just in Medicaid services. But if they were going to cut Medicaid expenses, they should start with abortion.

To read today’s story on the Senate’s decision to cut off debate on Murray’s amendment to give the states an extra $16 billion in federal medical assistance percentages (FMAP) and $10 billion in education assistance for teachers’ salaries, click here.

Didier is trying to beat out another Republican, former state Sen. Dino Rossi and businessman Paul Akers, for the chance to go head-to-head against Murray in the fall. Rossi said previously he he wouldn’t support extra FMAP money unless it was offset by spending cuts. Wednesday night in Vancouver, he said he still didn’t support this measure: “It was done in a hasty manner. She put a permanent tax in place for a temporary fix, and she’s taking money from our troops,” he told The Columbian without elaborating. For more on Rossi, click here. 

FMAP vote delayed until Wednesday

The U.S. Senate was poised to give Washington and other states a hint today at whether they should keep counting on extra Medicaid money. That could have signaled whether Gov. Chris Gregoire would be calling a special session to handle an expected budget shortfall.

But the vote on a special amendment on Federal Medical Assistance Percentages was delayed until at least Wednesday.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray was going to sponsor the amendment and speak on it Monday afternoon, but Majority Leader Harry Reid bumped it back two days on the calendar. A spokesman for Murray said they are double checking figures that explain how the money will be paid for without adding to the deficit, which Republicans are demanding. They’ll also be using the time  to try to round up  more votes.

Even if the amendment gets introduced, gets killed by a filibuster or doesn’t pass the Senate, that may be the last shot the Senate will take before going on its August recess. Gregoire will have to decide — special session or across the board cuts.

If it survives any attempt to filibuster it to death and passes the Senate, there’s another small problem: The House of Representatives is on recess until September. They could be called back for a vote, but then again, they’re pretty busy doing the things reps do when not in the other Washington…like running for re-election.

Washington needs the FMAP to fill in a projected budget gap and provide an ending fund balance to move into the 2011-12 biennium. Gregoire said she hoped to decide this week about a special session.

GOP to gov: Get agreement before spec session

OLYMPIA — Senate Republicans want Gov. Chris Gregoire to call the Legislature’s leadership and budget heads together before any special session and get an agreement on what should be cut.

In a letter today to Gregoire, Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt and GOP Senate Budget Committee Leader Joe Zarelli, said a pre-session meeting that would “develop a general framework for possible cost savings before the full Legislature is brought back to Olympia” would be extremely valuable.

Such an agreement could result in changes that would help reduce the budgets in the next two biennia, which also are projected to be in the red, and would increase the likelihood of a “short and efficient session.”

Gregoire’s office said she’s travelling today and hasn’t had a chance yet to see it. But the governor has repeatedly said she wouldn’t call the Lege back unless she could get an agreement that they’d get in, get business done and get out in a day or two. So Hewitt and Zarelli’s letter seems in line with that.

The Republican leaders couldn’t resist a little “we told ya so” in their letter. The state’s budget problem is a result of assuming the federal government would provide an extra $480 million in higher Medicaid money, and that money is now in doubt as Congress struggles to pass anything that could add to the deficit.

“At the time the budget was written, members of our caucus warned against depending upone one-time moneys and assumed federal payouts to balance the budget. Unfortunately, it appears that our worst fears may be played out over the next few months and our state budget may be plunged into an instant deficit,” they wrote.

WA budget woes: cuts can only go so far

OLYMPIA — One of the state’s top budget hawks points out today that Gov. Chris Gregoire’s ability to order across the board budget cuts only goes so far if the federal government doesn’t come through on Medicaid funding.

In other words, if Congress punts on FMAP, a special session would be needed to allow the state to have something in the bank at the end of the biennium, Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center says.

That makes the prospect of a special session more likely if Congress doesn’t vote to approve some $480 million to Washington state for higher federal medical assistance percentages, Mercier contends.

The Office of Financial Management confirms that Mercier is right about the limits on why a governor can order cuts in the face of budget problems. The governor has the authority to order cuts to avoid a projected deficit, Glenn Kuper of OFM said. There’s some leeway for the size of a deficit based on economic projections or forecasts, so if all the signs point to a downturn, the ordered cuts could take that into account.

But the governor can’t order cuts to create a surplus, which is really what an ending fund balance is — the money left over at the end of one budget cycle that carries you into the next budget cycle, when expenses are immediate but income might be slow in showing up.

The state budget has an ending fund balance of about $450 million, which was going to be provided by the FMAP money. Gregoire said last week that she was willing to wait until Congress goes on its August recess to see if the two chambers can pass FMAP before deciding on what route to take.

That’s still her plan, Gregoire’s staff said today. Without FMAP across-the-board cuts are a real possibility but a special session isn’t automatic, spokeswoman Karina Shagren said. The governor won’t call the Legislature back unless she gets some assurances they’ll be in and out in one or two days.

“The last special session, though, lessened her confidence that the state Legislature can follow that timeline,” Shagren said.

OFM will be watching projections in August as Congress approaches its recess, and should have updated figures available for Gregoire to consider when making the decision. The next state Revenue Forecast isn’t until Sept. 16.

Gregoire, other govs repeat call for Medicaid money

OLYMPIA — Chris Gregoire and other governors from around the country are in Washington, D.C., asking, cajoling, lobbying, pleading (pick one) with Congress to approve more money for Medicaid payments.

They held a joint press conference about 11 a.m. PDT, reiterating what they’ve already repeated, that the promised federal medical assistance percentages, or FMAP, need to be raised to the levels they were told to expect early this year. Without it, their budgets look even worse than they do right now.

In the case of Washington, the $480 million for FMAP equals about 6,400 state jobs, although Gregoire was careful not to threaten to axe that many workers at a date certain if Congress doesn’t come through.

The prospect of Congress approving that money in the near future took a turn for the worse Tuesday night, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced a new version of a bill with some money to help those hit hard by the economy. It would extend unemployment insurance to workers who are losing that, and would extend a tax credit for home buyers. But it has no money for FMAP.

Gregoire said the unemployment benefits extension is more pressing, because people are being dropped from thr rolls right now: “That’s one piece of the puzzle. We’re here to get the other piece.”

There is another proposal in the Senate, from Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., that would provide the extra FMAP money.

Gregoire said she believes time is running out on waiting for Congress to approve the money.

“Once they go on their August recess (around Aug. 9) I don’t have any realistic expectation they’re going to come back and do anything with the fall elections,” she said.

If there’s no decision by then, Gregoire said she’ll call a special session to revise the state budget, but only if legislators can agree to meet for a day to handle the problem. “I am not going to call a Legislature in that’s going to sit there and do nothing for 30 days.”

Without such an agreement, she’ll order across the board cuts. State agencies would need cuts of about 7.5 percent to come up with the full $480 million. She couldn’t estimate how many layoffs that would mean, but said there aren’t many options for cutting programs so without a special session, the bulk of the reductions would have to come through employee reductions.

Economy improving, state budget in black from tax hikes

OLYMPIA — Although the economic recovery “lost steam” in May, the state’s economic outlook is slowly improving and the state’s budget no longer awash in red ink.

What’s keeping it in the black, however, are hundreds of millions in new taxes the state expects to collect through mid 2013, and an as-yet unfulfilled promise of $480 million in federal money.

Arun Raha, the state’s chief economist, said this morning the state’s job growth was “disappointing” in May, after several good months of increases when manufacturing and software jobs improved. In May, most of the job growth was from temporary employment for people helping with the U.S. Census.

Some employers are holding off on new hires…

Special session could be needed, Gregoire says

OLYMPIA — Washington may need another special session of the Legislature if Congress doesn’t come through with some $480 million in higher payments for Medicaid, Gov. Chris Gregoire said today.

Concerns over the mounting federal deficit have delayed congressional approval of what Gregoire and officials of other state’s once considered a sure thing — a boost in the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages, or FMAP, for Medicaid costs which are shared with the states.

Washington is expecting a total of $480 million, and all but $30 million is dedicated to giving the state a General Fund ending balance that would carry over into the 2011-13 biennium.

The Obama Administration has called for the extra FMAP money, and both houses have approved it in some appropriation bill, but not yet in the same appropriations bill. As the days move toward the November elections, Congress may be increasingly reluctant to approve the higher Medicaid payments, which would add $23 billion to the federal deficit, she said.

“I think what the big hangup is, we’re in an election year and there’s all this talk about deficit spending, which is resonating,” she said.

Congress could attach the money to any of the remaining spending bills, or might wait until after the election to approve the money in a “lame duck” session after the elections, she said: “It will be a nail-biter, all the way.”

If the state gets a bad economic forecast next week or in September, she could call a special session to decide how to cut the budget. Because the state has accepted stimulus money, which comes with requirements to continue certain programs, only about 29 percent of the state’s general fund spending can be cut, she said. Basic education and higher education would generally be protected from the cuts; health care, social services and corrections would not.

“It depends on our forecast,” Gregoire said. “It’s a little premature right now. If we got a terrible forecast …I’d have to rethink this.”

Gregoire defended herself and fellow Democrats who control the Legislature against criticism that the state budget should not have counted on money that Congress hadn’t approved. She said it isn’t a partisan thing, because Republican governors and legislatures around the country also budgeted the money; some even allocated it to be spent for programs. 

“It happened everywhere. Everybody was confident (FMAP approval) was going to  happen,” she said.

Medicaid money, protesting Israel: Wassup June 2

Gov. Chris Gregoire is in “the other Washington” today, where she’s talking with a Pentagon panel about states and feds working together if there’s a WMD-type incident. Other familiar faces on the panel are Maj. Gen. Timothy Lowenberg of the Washington National Guard, and former U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt.

Gregoire is also talking with federal officials about Medicaid funding amounts, which have yet to pass Congress but which form the ending fund balance in Washington’s 2009-11 biennial budget. Without the expected payment levels for the money, known as Federal Medical Assistance Percentages or FMAP, the state would have the rough equivalent of pocket change to carry over into the next biennium. 

In Spokane this evening, the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane will be protesting Israel’s strike on the flotilla trying to break the blockade of Gaza. They’ll be holdilng signs at Wellesley and Dviision (near Northtown) between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Elsewhere in Washington state, Democratic state Sen. Craig Pridemore is out of the congressional race to replace U.S. Rep. Brian Baird in  southwest Washington’s 3rd District. In an account in the The Olympian by Jordan Schrader, his withdrawal is partly a result of his inability to keep pace in raising money because of the “intense” pace of the special legislative session. If Pridemore thought the spec sess was intense…gotta wonder what he’d think of life in the U.S. House.

His departure leaves two Democrats, Cheryl Crist and Denny Heck, and two Republicans, David Castillo and Jaime Herrera, running hard.

And on a lighter note, Jon Stewart returns to take a look at the Gulf oil mess:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Spilling Fields
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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall for The Spokesman-Review.

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