The Budget Battle In The Sunshine Economy
Two big financial questions remain unanswered as the state Legislature enters its last days of the 2015 regular session – how will Florida's government spend money on health care and the environment?
Billions of dollars are on the line.
The dual debates over Medicaid and Amendment 1 are not linked except for the disagreement between Republicans, who control both houses of the Legislature, over how much money to spend on the health of Floridians and Florida's environment.
Medicaid spending is about a third of the state budget, and Republicans are fighting among themselves over whether to expand the program and how to replace money for charity care.
Charity care money, or LIP (low-income pool) money, comes from the state and federal governments. It reimburses hospitals and others for providing health care to people who can't afford to pay at all. The federal government contributed $1.3 billion per year for this program.
That money is at risk of disappearing as the federal government has planned to do away with the funding. If that happens as planned, Florida state government economist Amy Baker has estimated thousands of lost jobs and millions of lost tax revenue to the state.
There's a separate fight over hundreds of millions of dollars voters have said they want to spent on the environment.
Seventy-five percent of voters in November 2014 approved Amendment 1, mandating lawmakers to spend money on Florida's environment.
But it's not simple. The amendment directs dollars for "acquisition and improvement of land, water areas, and related property interests" but deciding exactly what that means is the subject of debate among legislators, including Republican Senator Alan Hays, who heads a key subcommittee deciding how to spend the money.
Almost a third of Florida land is owned by local, state and the federal governments. Here are Florida's current public lands, including state- and federally owned and managed lands.
Health care and environmental spending may not be linked in the budget, but both are expressions of what’s important. And there are countless other interests demanding attention and dollars from Floridians.
For instance, more people moving to Florida means more kids. That means more students and that leads to more spending on education. It's estimated education will need $100 million more than originally budgeted.
Dollars are about decisions. The decisions made at the ballot box become decisions lawmakers make on with taxpayers' money.