When Republican Haley Barbour arrived at the state Capitol in 2004, he told us to read his lips: There would be no new taxes while he was governor.
Now five years later, that pledge is forgotten and recently he’s been engaged in a down-to-the-wire battle with lawmakers not over whether to raise taxes, but how much.
Both Barbour and the Legislature agreed several months ago on raising the cigarette tax. He wanted less, and lawmakers wanted more. They settled for something in between.
But the big brouhaha at session’s end came over putting a bed tax on hospitals, both private and public. Barbour pulled the hospital bed tax idea completely out of the blue earlier in the 2009 session as his answer to the ever-present problem of funding Medicaid, the longstanding federal-state program that now provides the only health care coverage for 600,000 poor or disabled Mississippians.
Barbour heavily leaned on lawmakers to tack $90 million in bed taxes on hospitals. After initially wanting no bed tax levied on hospitals, legislators eventually gave Barbour $60 million, which would escalate to $90 million in three years.
Somehow, in the last minute scramble, the question of whether or not to reauthorize the Medicaid Division became a big issue. Traditionally, the Medicaid program has contained a three-year “sunset” provision. But, never before in its long history has reauthorization been made an issue.