Is hospital tax needed?

JACKSON — Normally, when legislators are appointed to conference committees to work out the differences between the House and Senate, they try to uphold the position of their respective chambers.

Both the House and Senate voted not to place an additional tax on hospitals to fund Medicaid if there were federal stimulus funds available to plug any shortfall.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Johnny Sringer, D-Montrose, said federal stimulus funds are available to do just that. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, and Gov. Haley Barbour disagree.

They advocate a $90 million tax on hospitals. Stringer says he is willing to compromise at $45 million.

Nunnelee also says the tax is needed to solve any long-term funding woes with Medicaid. The federal stimulus funds are supposed to run out late in calendar year 2010.

Some have said it is irresponsible to not tax hospitals to fix Medicaid so that one-time money, such as the stimulus funds, will not have to continue to be used.

But are people who advocate that saying to not use the stimulus funds because they are one-time money? No one — not even the most ardent opponent of the stimulus package — has publicly advocated that.

Then, if Stringer is right and there is enough stimulus funds to fix Medicaid, is it wise to pass a tax now for some future year or is the correct course of action to pass a tax when it is needed?

Normally, Republicans say they are against taxes — especially unnecessary taxes.

The question is whether a hospital tax is needed and, if so, how much? In coming days, when House and Senate leaders finish their budget proposals, that question will be answered.

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