Will Florida lawmakers make the budget deadline?
By Roger Caldwell
There is one more week in the Florida Legislature’s Special Session, and the biggest piece of the puzzle has fallen into place. Florida has the second highest number of uninsured residents of any state, and the two Houses could not agree on how to divide less money to the low income hospitals. The federal government had decided to cut the low income pool (LIP) allocation in Florida, and the Senate and the House had different ideas to solve the problem.
The Senate wanted to expand Medicaid, and receive an additional two billion dollars from the federal government. On the other hand, the governor and the House did not trust the federal government, and they decided that the state could handle its own healthcare problems and expenses. Initially, the two Houses could not talk to each other, but now there has been progress on many fronts.
Healthcare expenses were the biggest hurdle to get over if there was going to be a balanced budget. The two Houses have agreed on principle to divvy up two billion dollars to hospitals for the cost of treating millions of people with no health insurance. The lawmakers have split up a pot of federal, state, and local tax money to 134 hospitals for the low income pool.
This is a huge achievement, but there are still negotiations behind closed doors that must be worked out to have a balanced budget. With time running out on the special session, the lawmakers must decide how they will divide millions of dollars on a plethora of issues. Negotiations have been tense at times as the different legislators decide on issues such as education, land and water protection programs, and hundreds of hometown projects in lawmakers’ districts.
Many lawmakers expect the pace to get “fast and furious” in the next few days because time is running out to meet the deadline. The deadline is June 31, 2015, but the special session should complete its work by June 19.
The Florida legislators have reached agreement on broad spending parameters, but remain far apart on hometown projects. Both sides have agreed to increase spending on each public school student by 3 percent, and the Senate wants to change the eligibility criteria for certain educational programs. There is confusion on both sides on how to carry out Amendment 1, the land conservation measure passed last fall by voters.
With all the confusion in the special session, I don’t think three weeks will be enough time for lawmakers to complete their work. Everyone wants a piece of the pie, and many of the details have not been worked out. When the deadline is breathing down the lawmakers’ neck, it is very easy to make mistakes, and forget details.
If things get too tight, our lawmakers should increase the special session another week. These negotiations are critical to the sustainability of the state, and the residents need a well thought out plan and strategy for a balanced budget. Even though the special session is costing state residents $75,000 extra a day, we expect and demand good work from our legislators.