House Republicans Make Budget Offer
Top Republicans in the Florida House made an offer Thursday to try to bridge a budget gap with Senate Republicans, but it could still result in the state's hospitals getting significantly less than they are receiving now.
House leaders offered to trim back spending on tax cuts and education - in order to boost spending in the state's safety net health care program. The offer, however, would be unconnected to a push by the Senate to expand Medicaid or revamp an existing program that takes federal money for hospitals.
"It's a conversation starter," said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican.
The House offer comes as the clock winds down on the 60-day session of the Florida Legislature. Legislators are expected to end their session on May 1, but without passing a new state budget.
The House and Senate remain deeply divided with budgets that are $4 billion apart going into the last week of session. The tone has gotten testy at times between Republican leaders. Gov. Rick Scott has also jumped into the fray in the last few days and has angered some senators by hinting that he could use his veto pen if they don't reach a deal that preserves some of his priorities. Those include more than $600 million in sought-after tax cuts.
The major sticking point between legislative leaders is health care. The Senate wants to take federal money to expand health insurance coverage to 800,000 Floridians, while also revamping a separate program that now brings in $1.3 billion to the state's hospitals. That program is due to expire this summer and some hospitals have warned they will close or cut services if they lose the money.
The federal government is insistent that Medicaid expansion must be part of the discussion if they are to extend the hospital funds and the House remains firmly opposed to the idea of using money linked to President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.
But House's offer may be enough to entice the Senate to start budget negotiations since it attempts to soften the potential cuts to hospitals. If legislators can't agree on a new budget, Scott says he'll call a special session.
Katie Betta, a spokesman for Senate President Andy Gardiner, said that it would take time for the Senate to review the House offer.
But Betta said "the president appreciates the offer Speaker Crisafulli made this afternoon and is looking forward to working together as we head toward the finish line.
The budget offer put together by the House would take away $200 million in existing state tax dollars and use an estimated $305 million from the federal government. House Republicans are proposing to scale back the size of their tax cut package down from $600 million, while also reducing slightly the money now set aside for schools.
Crisafulli acknowledged the proposal, which would not require federal approval, would not restore all the money that the hospitals could lose.
"I don't think that necessarily hospitals should be held harmless," said Crisafulli.