Five questions heading into Special Session

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The 2015 Special Session A kicks off Monday.

Here are five questions to consider going into the Special Session, which was called by House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner despite not having reached any agreement on the budget or spending in the month since the regular session came to a crashing end without the Legislature passing a budget — or much of anything else.

— How much Low Income Pool money will the state factor into the budget? The federal government has told Florida that it can tentatively expect to receive $1 billion in supplemental Medicaid funding called Low Income Pool for the 2015-16 year and $600 million in the 2016-17 year. In a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services last week Deputy Medicaid Director Justin Senior — who works for the governor — politely told the federal government “Thanks, but no thanks” in a letter, and shared with the feds a proposal to put $1 billion in county money directly into hospital rates, along with another $1 billion Florida wants to draw down in matching funds. Scott built his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year with the 2015-16 figure in mind, and anything shy of that could potentially mean more general revenue is needed for health care. More GR for health care means less GR for the governor’s other priorities.

— Will the Legislature agree to any tax cuts? It’s clear that the battle over tax cuts will not be one of the central arguments as the House and Senate move closer to each other on a new state budget. The Senate’s likely insistence to offset cuts to hospitals will take away state tax dollars from the nearly $700 million in tax cuts that Scott wants. Does that mean all tax cuts are off the able? Likely not, because some are easier to absorb from a budget perspective. The annual back-to-school sales tax holiday, for example, relies on non-recurring money, so it’s a one-time influx of money. It’s the big-dollar items, like the slash in the communications services tax, that may prove just too expensive to afford.

— Will any major healthcare reforms actually pass? The Senate has agreed to retool its healthcare coverage proposal to assuage some of the concerns that the House had expressed with the FHIX plan during the 2015 session and the House has compiled what is being called the Corcoran Wish List— including eliminating certificates of need, or CON for hospitals (but not the high-demand area of nursing homes or hospices), creating surgical care recovery centers to compete with hospitals, scope of practice expansions for nurses and a rewrite of the state group health insurance plan, among other things, that the House has been pushing for years. About the only issues missing from the Corcoran wish list are reforms to the state’s medical malpractice system.

— Can Scott salvage any of his 2015 legislative priorities? Scott came into this year’s Regular Session focused primarily on items tied to the budget including his tax-cut package, his push for an education funding boost and his college affordability legislation. As the healthcare fight dragged on, Scott, the former chief executive of the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chain, started railing against what he calls “taxpayer-supported” hospitals, which support Medicaid expansion. He also sued the federal government after it told Florida in correspondence it would look more favorably on keeping the state’s Low Income Pool–or supplemental Medicaid funding dollars made available through a waiver — if Florida expanded Medicaid. In the end, though, Scott’s antagonism toward the Senate may have deeply damaged the prospect of the governor winning approval of any of his major priorities. He has an ally in the healthcare arena with the House (which is ironic given its leadership, who blocked his choice to run the Republican Party of Florida).

— Will there be a compromise on land-buying and environmental spending that is acceptable to backers of Amendment 1? While the sniping over health care has been the big story, there’s still no final deal on how lawmakers will comply with the amendment approved last fall by voters. During the regular session it was clear that House and Senate Republicans were divided over how much money would be set aside for land acquisition. Some Republicans have argued that they can comply with the conservation amendment — which calls for spending more than $700 million this coming year–without setting aside substantial amounts for land-buying. Amendment 1 backers argue that’s not what voters intended.