Chad Stone is chief economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Republican governors, who actually have to govern, used to be a moderating force on the most extreme aspects of Republican ideology. No longer. In major areas such as health care, taxes, and jobless benefits, ideology is trumping sound policy judgment in many gubernatorial mansions and state legislatures.
Antipathy toward "Obamacare," not reasoned analysis, seems to be why many governors have expressed hesitation, if not outright opposition, to the Medicaid expansions under the Affordable Care Act, even though the federal government would pick up almost all of the costs. A similar antipathy (and probably a hope before the Supreme Court decision and 2012 election that the law would go away) led many governors to pass on the chance to use the flexibility that the it afforded them to design their own health insurance exchanges—new competitive marketplaces in which individuals and small businesses can choose among an array of affordable, comprehensive health insurance plans that the Affordable Care Act requires.
I've previously explained why Medicaid expansion is a good deal for the states. But as the map below from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities' report on the healthcare law's Medicaid expansions shows, many states remain undecided or are leaning against expansion:
The Center's report on the state health insurance exchange implementation shows that 26 states, including most of the states leaning against Medicaid expansion, have declined to either operate a state-based exchange or partner with the Department of Health and Human Services in designing their exchange. Under the law, that means they default to a "Federally facilitated exchange" that HHS will establish.
In another disturbing development, numerous states are considering—or have already enacted—sweeping tax and budget proposals that follow recommendations of the American Legislative Exchange Council, also known as ALEC. As this CBPP report explains, ALEC's recommendations for deep tax cuts and limits on revenues and spending reflect extreme "supply side" and antitax arguments that mainstream economic research discredited long ago.
CBPP's most recent assessment finds that at least five states (Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, and both North and South Carolina) are considering eliminating income taxes. At least 11 others (Idaho, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin) are considering deep tax cuts. And at least three states (Arizona, Arkansas, and Kansas) are considering harsh revenue limits.
Unemployment Insurance is a joint federal-state program in which states have traditionally offered up to 26 weeks of benefits to qualified workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own, and the federal government typically provides additional weeks of emergency unemployment compensation when national unemployment is high. In the current jobs slump, by far the worst since the 1930s, seven states have cut back on the maximum number of weeks of regular benefits they offer. Because the maximum number of weeks of federal emergency benefits is proportional to the maximum number of weeks of state benefits, that means jobless workers in those states have seen a significant reduction in support while they look for work in what remains a tough labor market.
Research shows that Unemployment Insurance is valuable not only to unemployed workers and their families but also for the additional spending that it injects into the economy. States that have cut back on it are hurting struggling families and their own economic recovery.
The North Carolina Trifecta
North Carolina is the poster child for these disturbing trends in state governments.
The Tar Heel State is one of the five considering eliminating its income tax. The new Republican governor supports legislation that would prevent the state from expanding Medicaid or establishing a health insurance exchange. And, in July, the state will become the eighth to have reduced the maximum number of weeks of Unemployment Insurance it offers. Moreover, North Carolina also cut the maximum level of benefits which, under the "maintenance of effort" requirement for receiving emergency federal benefits, requires the federal government to cut off all emergency Unemployment Insurance to North Carolina.
Republican governors used to fight for Medicaid and Unemployment Insurance because they recognized how much their states benefited. Now, many are leading the effort to cut valuable programs in order to finance tax cuts for high-income households and businesses, while letting the chips fall where they may for those of more modest means.