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Mead: Not enough info for Medicaid expansion

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Gov. Matt Mead is recommending that Wyoming not accept federal money for an expansion of the Medicaid program, a key component of the Affordable Care Act.

Unveiling his budget proposal Friday in Cheyenne, Mead said the ultimate decision on whether to accept $50 million in federal funds for the Medicaid program expansion will fall to the Wyoming Legislature after lawmakers convene in January.

Mead, a Republican, had steered Wyoming into litigation that challenged the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act soon after he took office in 2011. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the law is constitutional but also specified that states can opt out of the Medicaid expansion.

Wyoming currently has about 77,000 people on Medicaid and the proposed expansion could add another 30,000 by raising eligibility limits. The program currently costs about $500 million a year in the state, split evenly between the state and federal governments.

Despite his opposition to the law, Mead said Friday, "I urge everyone to keep an open mind on this. We shouldn't be deciding this on politics, but only what's right for Wyoming citizens."

Mead has gone public in recent months with criticism of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius over what he said has been her failure to respond to his questions about how the law would be implemented.

Mead said recently that lack of information from the federal government meant that Wyoming wouldn't meet a federal deadline to specify whether the state would operate a health insurance exchange program under the law.

Mead has written to Sebelius asking her what guarantees Wyoming would have that the federal government will continue to pay the bulk of the cost of the program expansion if the state agrees to let more people on the rolls.

"I do have questions about whether they'll live up to their promise," Mead said Friday. "But it's not just because they're the federal government, but because of what I've seen happen just in the last two years."

Mead noted that Congress recently acted to strip away more than $700 million in Abandoned Mine Lands funding that it had agreed to pay Wyoming in coming years. In addition, he noted that the National Park Service also is having difficulty scraping up roughly $100 million to purchase some state-owned parcels of land within Grand Teton National Park despite having reached a purchase agreement with the state.

"I don't see how you look at the federal government and not have concerns about their ability to live up to any large deal," Mead said. "They're deeply in debt. We have the fiscal cliff coming."

Positioning the state for projected slack energy revenues in years to come, Mead's budget recommendations also call for redirecting a $130 million annual stream of energy tax revenues that's currently going into permanent savings into the state's so-called "rainy day fund."

That move and other jockeying would put the state on track to hit the end of the current two-year funding cycle in mid-2014 with $2.1 billion in the accessible savings account.

Mead also said he favors imposing a 10 cent a gallon tax hike on gasoline and similar fuels sold in the state. He said the tax increase would cost the typical family of four $114 a year. He said it would generate roughly $71 million a year to fund the Wyoming Department of Transportation and local government road projects, with out-of-state drivers paying a large share.

Mead said he's recommending that the Legislature deny WyDOT's request for a $50-million supplemental appropriation in the coming session. While Mead said the department needs the money, he said it's time that the state took steps to secure a reliable source of additional funding for the agency. If the gas tax won't fly, he said he would urge lawmakers to earmark some of the state's energy revenue stream to road projects.

Mead's supplemental budget recommendations call for cutting state spending by just over $60 million in the coming fiscal year. His supplemental budget proposal would modify the two-year $3.2-billion state funds budget the Legislature approved earlier this year. He's calling for putting $11 million up for state employee pay raises.

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