No movement Tuesday in clearing up confusion over next year’s state budget. While state economists counted up how much money Florida will have to spend for the year beginning July 1, the stances of the players involved seemed to harden.
The Revenue Estimating Conference met but by sunset had yet to release the report lawmakers will use to build next year’s spending plan. Projections through December had a billion dollars more in the general revenue fund than there was last year.
However, a federal Low Income Pool, providing nearly $2 billion in the current budget to reimburse hospitals for care of the uninsured expires in June. Gov. Rick Scott included the money in his budget recommendation. The Senate Appropriations chair called the maneuver “irresponsible.”
Tuesday, Scott did not budge from his position.
“I would be very disappointed if the federal government doesn’t continue a program it started to take care of low-income individuals. Our Agency for Health Care Administration continues to work with HHS to make sure this continues and I’ll be very disappointed if it doesn’t,” said Scott.
Last week, state Sen. Tom Lee, who as the Appropriations chair leads the Senate budget writing effort, called a stalemate because of the confusion created by the LIP situation. Lee said he would not consider big spending items until the issue was resolved.
Tuesday, Senate President Andy Gardiner showed he is in Lee’s corner and is willing to give Scott some time to work out a deal with Washington.
“I remain deeply concerned with the uncertainty surrounding healthcare funding and the impact both federal and state policy decisions will have on what is the largest component of our budget,” said Gardiner.
“To accommodate the current uncertainty, we will have to reevaluate many of our goals and priorities. With seven weeks to go, I am hopeful Tallahassee and Washington can reach a solution,” said Gardiner. “I will not ask senators to vote on a budget that includes promises of substantial funding we may not be able to keep.”
The irony: the feds say LIP is no longer needed because the Affordable Care Act solves the problem of the uninsured. Florida, however, did not expand Medicaid as the ACA called for because the House feared someday the feds would stop funding the expansion.
Lawmakers are facing what Gardiner called “the stark reality of our present situation” and hoping for a solution where they can “advance important policy goals in areas like education, tax relief and water and natural resources, rather than to make up for lost federal funding.”
The state Capitol was a busy place Tuesday with an ugly story unfolding at the Department of Corrections. A veteran cop told a Senate committee, “We are at the point where we can no longer police ourselves.”
From the Times/Herald bureau:
“(John Ulm) said the atrocities he has observed on the streets of America pale in comparison to the human rights violations occurring in the Florida prison system.”
State Sen. Greg Evers, who is leading an effort this session to clean up DOC, even using the authority of his office to conduct surprise inspections of prisons, raised the possibility of a special legislative committee to investigate further.
The story is here.
Gov. Scott and the Cabinet embraced Sunshine Tuesday. When reaffirming an appointment of a Cabinet-level agency director or the firing of one the discussion will take during a public meeting.
The decision was prompted by the confusing circumstances surrounding the end of former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey’s career.
Bailey said he was given an opportunity to resign or be dismissed. The three Cabinet officials, Attorney General Pam Bondi, CFO Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, all told a version of a story that they were told Bailey had decided to resign.
The resulting confusion led to news agencies filing a lawsuit alleging a Sunshine violation. FDLE is one of the 10 agencies supervised by the governor and Cabinet.
A House education committee though would like for some business to be conducted in the shade. The Higher Education and Workforce subcommittee approved a measure exempting applications for university and college presidents from the public record law.
Proponents say the shield is needed because qualified applicants don’t apply for Florida positions for fear their current employers will find out.
“There will be sunshine,” said state Rep. Ray Rodrigues. “The question is where will sunshine be. We put the sunshine in the process in the last 30 days, when you decided who the finalists are.”
Opponents call the bill “The Secrecy Act.”
“(It) is not appropriate,” said state Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, the lone no vote on the committee.
A similar Senate bill has cleared two committees.
And state Sen. Jack Latvala is amassing a healthy campaign war chest for the 2016 election. Finance reports show Latvala sitting with more than $900,000. He’s engaged in a campaign against state Sen. Joe Negron for the Senate presidency. There’s more here.