Florida legislature set to pass $78 billion budget

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 19, 2015 12:22 PM

By Bill Cotterell

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Reuters) - Florida legislators are set to wind up a contentious special session on Friday with passage of a $78 billion state budget, narrowly avoiding a government shutdown.

An standoff between the Republican-controlled House and Senate over expanding Medicaid coverage to serve about 800,000 working poor Floridians caused the state’s regular 60-day session to end in disarray on April 28.

The Senate proposed a market-based plan for using federal billions to underwrite private healthcare coverage, but the more conservative House balked at accepting anything derived from President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

   Without a budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, lawmakers reassembled on June 1 and worked out compromises to fund a “low-income pool” of local, state and federal money to reimburse hospitals for care of the uninsured poor.

The Senate sought again to expand Medicaid eligibility, but the House held firm.

   Legislators gave Governor Rick Scott a $400 million package of tax cuts, which he signed early this week. A breakthrough in prolonged budget negotiations came near midnight on Monday, with the sudden emergence of $300 million in a wide range of programs and building projects — dubbed “turkeys” in the legislative process — to smooth ruffled feathers.

   Democrats objected not only to rejection of federal Medicaid money, but to what they called a short-changing of environmental protection spending.

Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment last fall requiring one-third of state real estate development taxes to be spent on land acquisition and water protection, but Republican legislative leaders spread the money among a wide range of programs that they said met the conservation criteria.

   Scott, a conservative Republican, can use his line-item veto to cull parts of the budget before signing it next week.

(Editing by David Adams and Mohammad Zargham)