Smart talk, Nov. 27 

Gas going up


Natural gas was expensive last winter, and most Arkansans can expect to pay even more this winter, according to the state Public Service Commission. Using estimates based on the market price of natural gas, a price the PSC has no control over, the commission predicts that a CenterPoint Energy residential customer who paid $130.53 for 10,000 cubic feet of gas last winter will pay $141.10 this winter. (On the bill, 10,000 cubic feet appears as 100 Ccf, which is an average amount for a residential customer in the winter.)

With about 428,000 customers, CenterPoint is by far the largest natural gas utility in Arkansas. The commission expects that an Arkansas Western Gas Company residential customer who paid $109.09 for 100 Ccf last winter will pay $101.86 this winter, and an Arkansas Oklahoma Gas Corporation residential customer will see his bill decline from $123.55 last year to $119.47. Arkansas Western has about 148,000 Arkansas customers, Arkansas Oklahoma about 45,600.

The PSC suggests ways for customers to keep their gas bills affordable: Sign up for levelized billing to avoid unexpectedly high bills during the winter. Use less gas, by, for example, turning down the thermostat at night and when a home will be empty for two or more hours. Tune up heating systems every two years and clean or replace filters every month during the heating season. Insulate attics, walls, ceilings and floors to improve efficiency and comfort. Stop air leaks by caulking windows, weather-stripping around door frames, closing fireplace dampers when not in use, and shutting off heat to unused rooms.


Medicaid not healthy


Health care may be the biggest problem facing America these days and health care specifically for the poor (Medicaid) the biggest problem facing state governments. Gov. Mike Beebe's announcement of a state budget that provides no new money for Medicaid but does include a tax cut may signal that Arkansas's Medicaid program will get worse before it gets better, and it's not all that great now. The consumer-protection group Public Citizen ranks Arkansas's over-all Medicaid program 38th among the states, and Arkansas is among the bottom 10 in two of the categories evaluated by the group — quality of care (45th) and scope of services (43rd). The low ranking in quality of care is attributed to Arkansas's  “low quality of nursing home services” and its “poor showing in terms of health outcomes” such as childhood immunizations and mental health care. The scope-of-services rating reflects that the program has “considerable gaps in coverage” — in rehabilitation services, prevention services and other areas available in other states' Medicaid programs.


Hammerin' Hank


Henry Williams, ousted as Little Rock school superintendent in 1996, left on an unpleasant note. His final days included an episode in which he told a news reporter to “suck my ass” for asking a tough question. Things have gotten no better in St. Louis, where Williams has pleaded no contest to fraud and tax evasion charges for taking money from a school district that had employed him as superintendent. After a court appearance last week, Williams was caught on video knocking a microphone out of a TV reporter's hand. Shouldn't have stuck it in his face, Williams remarked.



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