The information comes from Opportunity Arkansas Foundation, which reports total Arkansas government spending has nearly tripled since 2000 and now reaches nearly $30 billion annually.
"That's a lot of money for a state this size – and I think, unfortunately, not all of that money is necessarily being well-spent," Nicholas Horton, CEO of Opportunity Arkansas, tells AFN. "Arkansas spending is growing faster than Arkansans' incomes, up 141% compared to 126% growth in incomes."
One big reason for the spending, he explains, is Medicaid. Total Arkansas Medicaid spending has exploded by nearly 400%. In fact, the group's report says state-only Medicaid spending consumes nearly half of the state's income tax revenue. According to Horton, the state has added nearly a half-million able-bodied, working-age adults into its Medicaid program since expanding Medicaid through Obamacare.
"These are people who did not traditionally qualify for long-term welfare in the state of Arkansas or really in any state before Obamacare," he continues. "Most of them are childless adults – they are all working age and they are able-bodied.
"So, our perspective is those are folks who could and should be working – and we have nearly 50,000 open jobs in the state."
Horton points out that this problem comes at the same time Arkansas legislators are calling for the elimination of the state income tax. But in order for that to happen, Horton says policymakers must rein in spending – and among the group's suggestions to do that:
- Remove ineligible enrollees from the Medicaid program, beginning in April 2023
- End the "private option" model for Medicaid expansion
- Pursue a comprehensive Medicaid waiver that promotes work and accountability
- Implement more pro-work policies in welfare programs (e.g., mandatory employment & training in the Arkansas food stamp program)
- Reduce state general revenue spending by a fixed amount for very state department