Majority Leader Larry O'Neal, R-Bonaire, suggested members will be grateful to avoid voting on something that can be called a tax. "It got unfairly characterized as a tax when nothing ever showed up as a tax on anyone's hospital bill," he said.
O'Neal conceded that challengers in 2014 legislative races still could accuse sitting lawmakers of "voting for a tax" even if it's the state health board establishing the details. "Probably so," he said. "But we're beyond elections and it's time to deal with the policy that's right for Georgia."
Rep. Stacey Abrams, the House Democratic leader, was more skeptical, calling it "a novel approach" and adding that she wants to "understand how it would work in practice."
Abrams cautioned, though, that the House bill should be the one that moves, because fiscal bills must by law originate in the lower chamber. Abrams, an Atlanta attorney, also said she wants to explore questions about whether the model would effectively shift taxing authority — which constitutionally rest with the Assembly — to the executive branch. The board comprises nine appointees from the governor.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, said, "I think some people will think that's ceding authority." But Hill said he had no problem with the proposal and noted that the board has a track record of independently setting policy, regardless of whether legislators approve.
The Hospital Association, Bloye said, has little interest in debating constitutional theory, though he made the organization's argument nonetheless.
"We've always said this is not a tax," he said. "It's a provider fee that we willingly pay. From our perspective, this is the best alternative out there to continue to provide Medicaid services for the Georgians who need them."
Associated Press writer Ray Henry contributed to this report.
Follow Barrow on Twitter (at)BillBarrowAP.