Utah Gov., House Speaker spar on Medicaid, school technology funding

Posted at 10:37 PM, Feb 19, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-20 00:37:08-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- A pair of policy debates at Utah's Capitol have many in the legislature wondering if they are seeing a preview of a primary election battle.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-District 64, is increasingly at odds with Gov. Gary Herbert on Medicaid and school technology funding.

On expansion of Medicaid, health insurance for the poor, Herbert decided after two years of deliberation that Utah should accept federal funding, which would amount to somewhere north of $500 million.

"We need to make sure in this process of Medicaid there's, one, a moral obligation we have to help them and the second part of that is what is the best financial reason to support them respecting federal dollars," said Herbert at his monthly news conference at the Dolores Dore Eccles Broadcast House at the University of Utah.

But the House Speaker unveiled an alternative on Tuesday that uses no federal dollars. Instead, the pared-down plan would use about $30 million from the state budget to fill the most obvious gaps in the system.

"There is value in being in control of your own destiny, and when we partner with an unsustainable funding source out of the federal government we are not in control of our own destiny as a state," Lockhart said.

"It makes it difficult for me to see them paying more money to get help for fewer people. That seems to be illogical to me," Herbert said.

The governor is also skeptical of the scope of a program proposed by the speaker to purchase computer tablets for classrooms in public schools. The program has an estimated price tag between $2-300 million.

Democrats on the Hill also held a press conference to voice their opposition to the speaker's alternate health-care plan.

"Some of us happen to think it's all about politics," said State Democratic Party Vice Chair Josie Valdez.