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Senate ready to roll on budget over the weekend

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

With the drama over health care playing out according to the expected script, the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature is finally ready to pivot to passing a new state budget.

The Senate on Wednesday passed its healthcare coverage bill and sent it over to the House where it is anticipated that chamber will vote down the legislation.

Despite the bitter debate over the healthcare bill, the two chambers must begin work on the must-pass bill of the year: the General Appropriations Act.

Senate President Andy Gardiner told members that the chamber plans on having budget conferences beginning on Friday and lasting through the weekend.

But that work can’t start until Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli reach a deal on “allocations” or the amounts of state tax dollars that will be given to the various spending areas, such as education, health care and general government. The nearly $31 billion of state money, or general revenue, available this year can be recurring or non-recurring and both types are allocated to appropriations subcommittees to spend.

A factor that plays into the allocations is how much money the chambers will divert from other parts of the budget and agree to spend on “backfilling” the loss of Low Income Pool dollars. Florida currently has a $2.2 billion Low Income Pool program but the federal government notified Florida two weeks ago that it could expect a $1 billion program in the 2015-16 fiscal year. And in 2016-17 the LIP program will be in the $600,000 area.

Senate budget chief Tom Lee told reporters on Wednesday that the Senate knows how much general revenue it needs to ensure Florida’s hospitals can continue to operate but he would not disclose the figure nor would he offer whether the Senate would request that all the general revenue be recurring.

Lee did reiterate to reporters, though, that the Senate is not moving ahead with an 11th-hour proposal by Gov. Rick Scott to use the dollars to plow them into hospital rates. Scott floated the proposal after the feds told Florida its LIP pool would be $1 billion and floated the proposal again on Tuesday during the grilling of Deputy Secretary for Medicaid Justin Senior.

During the regular 2015 session the House made two offers to increase general revenue funding in the healthcare budget. The first offer was $200 million, the second offer $600 million. Crisafulli said on the opening day of special session that the $600 million figure is no longer on the table. Gardiner downplayed Crisafulli’s comments, noting that the $600 million was offered only if the Senate would back off its insistence that Low Income Pool dollars be included in the budget and only if the Senate immediately accepted the offer.

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