(Andy Matthews) – Earlier this week, Gov. Brian Sandoval announced that he would extend Medicaid to able-bodied, childless adults with incomes over the poverty line. While there are plenty of practical reasons that this decision will have a negative impact on Nevadans, which NPRI’s Geoffrey Lawrence has outlined here, what the governor said in defense of his decision is even more alarming.
I couldn’t sit here and defend to any of you $16 million that just went away because of principle. I think, when you take the opportunity to look through all of this, at least the fiscal part of this, it makes perfect sense. (Emphasis added.)
A little background: Because the federal government has promised to cover the costs of Medicaid expansion for the first three years, it appears Gov. Sandoval is able to shuffle some currently provided services onto the federal government’s tab.
But while saving money is usually a good idea, it’s not a good deal if you’re going to be stuck with a larger bill in the long run — which Nevada’s taxpayers, in this case, would be. This is like a used-car dealer giving you $500 cash back and “no payments for the first two months” on the $25,000 car you purchased. You’d be laughed at if you claimed you made the deal to “save money,” but that’s analogous to what the governor is claiming here.
But what’s more troubling is that Gov. Sandoval has, by his own admission, sacrificed a principle for short-term gains.
The very reason you have principles is to help you do what’s right despite the allure of short-term and usually temporary gains.
Consider principles in a different context. Let’s say you’re a parent. In raising your children, you would try to instill many principles in them — tell the truth, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, obey your mother and father, etc.
Why are those principles so important? Because it’s easy to tell the truth? Because it’s easy to follow the Golden Rule? Because it’s easy for kids to obey their parents?
No. You make a point of teaching your children principles precisely because it’s easier, in the short run, to lie, to be self-centered and to mouth off to Mom and Dad.
Principles help teach children the importance of foregoing immediate gratification in order to do what’s right — which also helps them avoid the long-term negative consequences that follow from taking the wrong actions.
That’s also why principles are so important in government. Every government action has both short- and long-term consequences, and often those consequences are contradictory. In the case of Medicaid expansion, you have the contrast of short-term savings with long-term liabilities.
Adhering to principle would have helped Nevada’s taxpayers tremendously — even if the benefits came primarily after Gov. Sandoval left office. And while some are seeking to attach a provision that would sunset the expansion if the federal match rate were to go down, such a move, though prudent on its face, would be effectively worthless. Just look at the “temporary” tax increases passed in 2009, which the governor has already promised to extend through 2015, to see how “sunsets” of government expansions turn out.
Gov. Sandoval claims he made the right decision by abandoning a principle for $16 million.
But if you understand how important principles are, you know he sold that which is most precious for chump change.
What do you think about this? You can email me, but I encourage you to call Gov. Sandoval and politely offer your thoughts. His office number is (775) 684-5670.
(Mr. Matthews is president of Nevada Policy Research Institute)