Georgia Governor Nathan DealTAMPA – Georgia Governor Nathan Deal vowed Tuesday he would not enroll his state in a controversial Medicaid expansion program, the first comments in which the Republican swore off a central element of President Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms.

Deal said Georgia’s already-strained budget, from which he directed all state departments and agencies to shave three percent a piece, could not underwrite a $4 billion-per-year expansion of the program.

“I do not have any intention of expanding Medicaid,” he told a trio of papers Tuesday at the Republican convention in Florida. “I think that is something that our state cannot afford.”

The president’s healthcare package stipulated an unprecedented expansion of Medicaid eligibility guidelines, providing for stiff funding penalties for those states that balked.

But the U.S. Supreme Court recently neutered the provision in a landmark decision that found Congress lacked the authority to dole punitive remedies to those states that rejected the expansion effort.

The ruling triggered virtually wholesale rejection by GOP chief executives of the program, no longer a forced proposition. Deal, though, only expressed mild concerns in the weeks that followed.

Asked if anything might change his decision to opt out, long delayed after a majority of his Republican laterals, Deal told the gaggle: “I can’t think of any right now that would induce me to say that we’re going to expand our Medicaid population up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.”

– James Richardson