WASHINGTON – Arkansas labor leaders planned to descend on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to lobby the state’s congressional delegation on behalf of entitlements and public education in the face of the looming fiscal cliff.
Arkansas AFL-CIO President Alan Hughes had meetings scheduled with most members of the Arkansas delegation to urge them to protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in any deficit negotiations.
"We need these things and hope they will take this into consideration," Hughes said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
More than 635,000 Arkansans receive Social Security checks each month, 516,063 Arkansans are covered by Medicare and 698,819 are covered by Medicaid. All totaled, that amounts to $15.9 billion in annual benefits to state residents, according to the AFL-CIO.
Hughes said he supports allowing Bush-era tax cuts for Americans earning more than $250,000 a year to expire as President Barack Obama and Democrats propose.
"We know that raising the taxes on the top 1 percent or 2 percent is not all that we need (to fix the deficit) but still we’d like to see that level playing field," Hughes said.
Arkansans who earn more than $250,000 a year actually average about $622,360 annually and would pay $35,280 more in taxes if the Bush-era tax cuts expire as scheduled on Jan. 1, according to the AFL-CIO.
Hughes and state Rep. Jim Nickels, D-Sherwood, have scheduled meetings with Sens. John Boozman, R-Ark., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark., as well as Reps. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, Mike Ross, D-Prescott and Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock.
Hughes said Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, declined a meeting request.
Claire Burghoff, a spokeswoman for Womack, said his schedule could not accommodate a meeting Wednesday but his legislative director was available to meet with Hughes.
Donna Morey, president of the Arkansas Education Association, also planned to be on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to raise concerns over the impact pending across-the-board spending cuts would have on public schools.
Without congressional action, across-the-board cuts would lop about $28 million from programs for Arkansas students. About $12.7 million in federal funding would be cut from programs targeting nearly 22,000 low-income students, programs serving 4,000 special needs students would face $9.2 million in cuts, and nearly $6.2 million in cuts to Head Start would mean about 900 fewer slots for Arkansas students, according to Morey.