“It’s critical for the advancement of the state, both economically and socially,” Waller said, sitting in his wood-paneled office in downtown Jackson, just a few blocks from the governor’s mansion.
Waller declined to endorse Reeves and would not say if he is voting Tuesday for the Republican nominee or Jim Hood, Mississippi’s attorney general and the lone Democrat to hold statewide office, whom he called a “credible political figure” who could push through expansion.
Reeves, meanwhile, maintains opposition to the expansion, though he has provided few policy solutions to address the state’s growing health insurance crisis.
Reeves’ campaign did not respond to multiple interview requests made by NBC News. Campaign spokesman Parker Briden also declined to provide NBC News an interview with Reeves after the lieutenant governor briefly spoke at a press event in Jackson, Mississippi, where he discussed his opposition to Medicaid expansion in late October.
He mainly insisted at the event that his opponent would raise taxes, which Hood denies, but still did not provide an alternative.
“We believe you know how to spend your money better than any government entity ever will,” Reeves said at the time.
Cost is always an issue in Mississippi and it was exacerbated when Reeves and the state Legislature passed the largest tax cut in Mississippi history in July 2017. Now, a state with already low revenue is seeing its assets shrink even further.
The state is projected to lose $46.5 million this year and $415 million per year once the tax cut hits its full level in 2028, according to Mississippi’s Department of Revenue and Legislative Budget Office.
In an interview, Hood lamented that Reeves and state Republicans passed the tax cut, calling it “a corporate tax give away.” He pointed to that as a reason Mississippi is struggling to pay for Medicaid, as well as fund increases to a beleaguered education system and much-needed fixes to thousands of damaged roads and bridges.
Hood said that makes it more difficult to ignore that the state’s proposed general fund budget for financial year 2019 was $5.6 billion — less than the $6 billion the state would have already banked from the federal government had it chosen to pursue expansion in 2012.
But when asked how he planned to pay for his policy proposals considering that tax cut was still in place and he would likely work with the same Republican Legislature that passed the cut, Hood did not have a clear answer and said he would likely renegotiate private government contracts.
As for Medicaid expansion, Hood said he felt confident he could get it passed if he followed the same route advocated by the Mississippi Hospital Association and Waller, though he noted he wasn’t “sure of every detail” and didn’t “know the answer to how exactly that happens.”
But he insisted that Mississippi taxpayers wouldn’t foot the bill.
“That one doesn’t cost anything,” he said. “It generates $100 million a year, creates 10,000 jobs. It’s an economic driver.”
In the meantime, however, people like Velasco continue to hope that the politicians arguing almost 200 miles south of her home will find some solution.
For her, time is of the essence.
“I’ve gone years without medication, and it’s gotten to a point where you hit rock bottom,” Velasco said, folding her hands in her lap. “And it’s just like, ‘Okay, if I go, I go.’ That’s just how I have to see it.”