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Florida Tax and Budget News: Health Care, Class Size, Immigration

FCFEP Tax and Budget Newswww.fcfep.org

Florida Legislators Look to Block Health-Care Reform


Orlando Sentinel:

While
the fight against President Obama’s health-care reform may be  centered
in the Beltway, Republican resistance to the sweeping new  mandates is
also taking shape in Tallahassee.  Among the battlefronts:


·Florida led the charge with 19
other states last March by challenging  the law in federal court,
claiming the mandates that uninsured people  buy coverage violated
states’ rights. A judge in Pensacola is expected  to rule shortly after a
Dec. 16 hearing on whether the suit can move  forward. More states are
expected to join after a new crop of state  attorneys general are sworn
into office in January.

·Last spring, GOP legislators
hastily drafted a constitutional amendment spelling out  that Florida
businesses and residents couldn’t be forced to buy  insurance, but a
Tallahassee judge threw it off the November ballot for  "misleading"
language. Lawmakers have re-filed an altered version and  hope to place
it before voters in 2012.

·And perhaps most significantly,
legislative leaders are poised to block  spending and rules necessary to
implement the law. Already, state  regulators has refused to impose
minimum spending mandates that might  generate refunds for consumers –
but which health insurers say will hurt  their profits. And Gov.-elect
Rick Scott has also made clear he doesn’t want the state doing anything
 to help the law along.

The Patient Protection and
Affordable Care Act passed last spring  anticipated that the states
would lead the way on many of its more than  100 changes to the nation’s
health care system. With 3.8 million  uninsured residents, Florida is
one of the states that would be most  affected by the law.

The most controversial reforms –
including the requirement that  individuals buy coverage or pay a
penalty — don’t start until 2014, and  phase-ins continue until 2018.
But the bill requires states to start  working now to improve their
data-collecting and enforcement mechanisms.

It was hoped states would create
their own insurance exchanges, to match  individuals with insurance
plans; establish "high-risk" pools to insure  people now shunned by
providers; and police new restrictions on  insurance company profits.

But Gov. Charlie Crist opted last
spring not to immediately tap into federal  grant money to create a
Florida high-risk pool to cover people with  pre-existing medical
conditions, deferring to the federal government.  And now (House Speaker
Dean) Cannon, R-Winter Park, and Senate President Mike Haridopolos,
R-Merritt Island, may seek to block any cooperation by  the state.

Florida has been awarded $43
million in grants to provide $250 rebates  to seniors who fall into the
"donut hole" in the Medicare prescription  drug program; to help prepare
the Office of Insurance Regulation to  evaluate out-of-state insurers
seeking to sell health coverage in the  state; and to plan for creating a
health-care marketplace, or  "exchange," and other changes.

But even before he was officially
named speaker, Cannon warned Crist  that no state agency should take any
steps to comply with the law  "without clear and comprehensive guidance
from the Legislature."

(Read the story.)  

________________________________________________________________________________

Fasano:  We’ll Stop the Medicaid HMO Bill

WUSF-FM, Tampa:

A Republican
state senator says he’s confident the Legislature will  reject a plan
by his own party leadership to shift Medicaid recipients  into a Health
Maintenance Organization, or HMO.

"I hope in the end, Republicans and Democrats will join me and others
 in stopping this from happening," said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port
 Richey.

He says he has most of the medical community behind him, including  the
state Medical Association, nurses, hospitals, and nursing homes.

"I believe in the end there may be some sort of a change, but it  won’t
be as dramatic as what we’ve heard about in the last few weeks,"  he
said.

House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos have
 made the HMO/Medicaid plan a top priority, and it’s expected to come up
 during the legislative session early next year.

Their plan is to divide the state into six regions and place an
 estimated 3 million poor, elderly and disabled Floridians into HMO-like
 managed-care plans. They’ve also talked about allowing them to try to
 purchase health insurance on the private market.

Medicaid patients already are served by an HMO in five Florida
 counties: Duval, Baker, Clay, Nassau and Broward. The idea behind
taking  this statewide is private companies will prevent wasteful
spending and  reduce costs for the state.

Fasano says adding a for-profit company as gatekeeper will siphon off
 money for Florida’s Medicaid recipients, who are mostly children,
 people with disabilities and the elderly.

He says he’s hearing from people in the medical field who say  Medicaid
doesn’t cover the full cost of treating Medicaid patients right  now.
They fear that would become even worse under an HMO.

"You bring in a for-profit company that has to worry about the rate  of
return for their shareholders, and the rate of return to those  doctors,
hospitals and nursing homes will be less. And you’re gonna see  fewer
people in the medical field willing and able to take Medicaid
 patients," he said.

He says non-profit nursing homes are already taking a loss on  Medicaid
patients – and if their rates are reduced, they’ll cut their  number of
Medicaid beds….

 "Look, I understand there has to be Medicaid reform," he said. "But you
 cannot force senior citizens, mentally and physically challenged
people,  into a system that’s going to give them less services than what
they  get today. They’re having a tough time today getting those
services;  let’s not make it harder for them."

(Read the story.)
________________________________________________________________________________
Jobless Benefits to End for 107,500 Floridians; Extension Talks Underway

Sun-Sentinel:

With 2
million Americans poised to lose jobless benefits starting this  week,
the Obama administration is pushing Congress to pair an extension of
unemployment  aid with a deal to also extend the Bush-era tax cuts….

Because the aid program lapsed  Tuesday, more than 107,500 unemployed
 workers in Florida are losing their jobless benefits, according to
 National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for the unemployed.

Nearly  2 million unemployed Americans will run out of benefits over the  holidays, the group said.

Now, Floridians who lose their  jobs will only be able to access 26
weeks of regular state unemployment  benefits. During the recession, up
to 79 weeks of federal emergency  benefits have been available to many
unemployed workers in the state.

The  group being cut off from benefits includes nearly 34,000 Floridians
who  have only had six months of regular unemployment compensation.

 President Barack Obama on Tuesday asked a group of congressional
 leaders working out a compromise on expiring tax cuts to also tackle
 expiring unemployment benefits.

"We discussed working together to  keep the government running this year
– and running in a fiscally  responsible way," Obama said in a
statement after the bipartisan  leadership meeting. "And we discussed
unemployment insurance, which  expires today. I’ve asked that Congress
act to extend this emergency  relief without delay to folks who are
facing tough times by no fault of  their own."

In Florida, more than 107,000 residents will see their  jobless benefits
end, according to NELP. Of those, 33,880 have only  received six months
of state benefits; 73,637 on a federal extension  will see their
benefits end after whatever tier they’re in is complete.

Florida  has 1.1 million residents out of work and unemployment is still
higher  than the national rate – 11.9 percent in October, unchanged
since  September. The state’s unemployed receive one of the lowest
jobless  benefits in the nation, a maximum of $275 a week.

(Read the story.)
______________________________________________________________________________
State Senator Unveils Arizona-Style Immigration Bill

Miami Herald:

The first crack at an Arizona-style immigration
 overhaul has been filed in the Florida Senate, with a proposal that
 would let law enforcement officers ask suspected illegal aliens to
prove  their immigration status and could penalize some legal immigrants
who  aren’t carrying proper documentation.

The bill, sponsored by  Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Bennett,
R-Bradenton, is the first  volley in a likely long and heated debate
over the future of immigration policy in the state. Since the passage of
the Arizona law last spring, many Florida Republicans – including
Gov.-elect Rick Scott – have argued that Florida needs a similar law and
campaigned on the issue throughout the summer and into the fall.

"Any time you file a bill it’s basically opening up for dialogue,
opening up for discussion, opening up for debate,” Bennett said.

Scott, in particular, made the Arizona law a major piece of his race for
governor, frequently mentioning it at campaign stops and urging
Floridians to follow his lead and make a donation to Arizona’s  Border
Security and Immigration Legal Defense Fund….

Bennett’s measure would allow law enforcement officers during a lawful
detention or arrest to ask for the detainee’s immigration documents if
the officer suspects they may be in the country illegally. The bill,
however, prohibits law enforcement from using race  as a reason for
checking the person’s documentation. The bill also  penalizes legal
aliens who refuse to carry their documentation, with a possible fine of
up to $100 and a 20-day jail sentence.

Bennett  said his goal with the legislation was for the Legislature to
crack  down on the criminal elements sometimes associated with illegal
immigration, such as gang violence or drug trade. It is not, he said, to
 punish people who live and work in Florida legally.

(Read the story.)

See also from the Miami Herald:
Scott wants people stopped and asked if they’re  here legally or not 
______________________________________________________________________________
Lawsuit Planned If State Fines School Districts Over Class Sizesisers

Orlando Sentinel:

More than half of Florida’s school districts have not
complied with the state’s class-size law and now face steep penalties,
the Florida Department of Education announced  late Tuesday.

If the state moves ahead with those fines, which could run as high as
 $16 million in Palm Beach County alone, the Florida School Boards
Association has threatened to sue. The association argues the fines are
not fair, as the Florida Legislature did not provide districts enough
money to meet the  law’s demands.

Across Florida, 35 of 67 school districts fell short of the class-size
rules put into place following a voter referendum in 2002.

Since the law was approved, the state has required schools to gradually
reduce the number of students per teacher in "core" academic  classes –
language arts, math, science and social studies – with final  compliance
in 2010….

The Florida School Boards Association for months has been talking about
suing the state if any district is penalized for failing to meet the
class-size law.

Candace Lankford, the association’s president, said Tuesday that any
penalty will trigger two lawsuits from the association. One will
 challenge the fines, and the other will take on the state for exempting
 charter schools from the last, most stringent phase of the law….

The Legislature provided no extra money this year to help schools shrink
 class sizes, though the education department estimated the task would
 require about $350 million.

(Read the story) ______________________________________________________________________________
Out-of-State Retailers Should Pay Sales Tax
Beth Kassab column, Orlando Sentinel:

Shoppers across the nation surfed their way to a record $1 billion in Internet purchases earlier this week on Cyber Monday.

But Florida didn’t reap the sales tax benefits that it should have. The
state can’t collect sales tax from businesses such as Amazon.com or
eBay, which don’t have a physical presence in Florida.

It amounts to a tax break that benefits exactly the wrong type of
 business: one that doesn’t invest or provide jobs in this state.

Internet sales will only continue to increase, meaning states will  miss
out on more and more tax revenue. Estimates today say Florida is
 losing out on between $2 billion and $4 billion a year.

Enter a decade-old effort known as the streamlined sales and use tax
 agreement, which attempts to simplify sales tax collection across the
 states and urges Congress to change federal law so that states can
 collect from businesses outside their borders.

Florida is facing a $2.5 billion budget shortfall. Incoming Gov. Rick
Scott  wants to cut the corporate income tax and property taxes,
 meaning the state will become even more dependent on the sales tax to
 pay for schools, roads and other services.

It only makes sense that the state push to collect sales tax from  outlets that do business here but don’t pay.

(Read the column.)  

 ______________________________________________________________________________Spending Spending is Scott’s Challenge
The News Service of Florida/Sarasota Herald-Tribune:

Republican
Rick Scott  got plenty of political mileage during the governor’s race
ridiculing the Obama administration for running up the federal deficit.

But now the governor-elect faces his own tide of red ink — with
taxpayer-financed, state government debt already at a record $26.4
billion, and climbing.

"It’s worth getting a grip on  this," said Dr. Randall Holcombe, a
Florida State University economist, whom the governor-elect has named to
his economic advisory council. "The  debt represents more money that’s
taken out of the private sector, and  that’s what will create more jobs
and more income."

The state’s Division of Bond  Finance is scheduled to release a report
this month likely to show  another $2 billion in IOUs added to state
ledgers this year, powered by  the cumulative effect of heavy borrowing
for public school- and  university-construction projects, roadwork and
environmental land  purchases, officials said.

Florida  taxpayers spent $2.1 billion last year just to service the
debt, double  the level of 10 years ago. But that annual payment is
expected to  endure until 2014, when it is forecast to fall to $1.8
billion a year.

With the state facing a $2.5  billion budget shortfall next year, the
debt payments loom large as  lawmakers struggle to balance a roughly $70
billion state spending plan.  And the borrowing flourished even while
Scott’s own party, which touts  fiscal conservatism, held the reins of
state government.


(Read the story)