It has become a familiar story. North Carolina political leaders talking about the benefits to the state of receiving a massive infusion of federal dollars to expand a state program, the jobs it will create and the people’s lives it will help.
They clamor for the federal money even though there’s no guarantee the funding will keep flowing at the same level or even that it won’t stop altogether. They brush aside claims from the far Right that federal money is not “free” and that lowering the federal budget deficit is more important than funneling money to the states.
But North Carolinians pay federal taxes after all and deserve to see a share of the federal dollars helping people in their own state. And the jobs are very important.
Gov. Pat McCrory made that case recently to an N.C. Chamber audience but he wasn’t talking about expanding Medicaid, he was talking about the need for Congress to authorize transportation spending for the next five years so the state can receive the federal money it needs to keep building highways and bridges.
N.C. Transportation Secretary Tony Tata said at the same meeting that unless Congress acts soon to provide the new federal funding, the state will have to stop writing checks for road building in July or August.
Federal money it seems is crucial to the McCrory Administration’s long term plans for North Carolina — but just some federal money.
McCrory and his political allies who run the General Assembly have refused to expand Medicaid in the state as part of the Affordable Care Act and provide health care coverage for 500,000 low-income uninsured adults and create as many as 23,000 thousands of jobs over the next 10 years in the process.
The federal government would have paid the full cost of the expansion for the first three years and 90 percent of the cost after that. McCrory and legislative leaders said no, North Carolina does not want the federal money because we are not sure how long the federal funding will continue.
Many McCrory supporters pontificated that the federal funding would only add to the federal deficit and increase the national debt. Others cited threats to the state’s “sovereignty” by taking more federal funding and the regulations that come with it.
None of that seems to bother the folks now pushing for federal highway money. And the hypocrisy isn’t new. The same day last year that the House passed legislation rejecting the federal funding for Medicaid expansion they also voted for a bill paving the way for the state to receive federal funding to help with the construction of the 540 outer loop highway around Raleigh.
Federal funding is apparently OK for highways, but not for health care. The folks currently running North Carolina hate the federal government paying to expand health care in our state. That’s meddling in state affairs and increasing the federal budget problems.
But when it comes to building roads, federal money and the rules that come with it are welcome and never mind any federal budget issues. That’s different. That’s economic development, they keep telling us.
But Medicaid expansion would create jobs too, lots of them. The 23,000 figure comes from a study released by the N.C. Institute of Medicine and it was conducted by analysts at Regional Economic Models Inc. Ideological opponents of Medicaid expansion ridiculed the study and the claims about the jobs it would create.
But in another startling display of hypocrisy, the McCrory Administration released a report last fall showing the huge economic effect of the military in North Carolina, which of course is also funded with federal dollars.
The report used the same model from the same company for calculating the economic effect of the military as the study for the Institute of Medicine used to come up with how many jobs would be created by Medicaid expansion.
Not only is federal funding apparently worth rejecting and accepting, the legitimacy of economic studies using exactly the same model seems to be in the ideological of the beholder.
It’s not too late on Medicaid. Gov. McCrory and lawmakers could come to their senses and expand it this year with a simple vote in this summer’s legislative session. All it would take would be a little less hypocrisy and accepting the reality that federal funding can help create jobs and improve people’s lives in North Carolina both by building roads and expanding health care coverage.
Chris Fitzsimon is founder and executive director of N.C. Policy Watch.