The Florida Constitution requires the Florida Legislature to pass a balanced budget and send it to the governor. This is the Constitution’s primary mandate for the Legislature. The Florida budget, like any budget, is comprised of two components: income and expenses. Governmental income is derived from the taxes and fees paid by Floridians and visitors to our state. Expenses represent the cost to fund the state’s priorities.
Floridians send their hard-earned money to Tallahassee and to Washington. Floridians send significantly more money to Washington than we do to Tallahassee. While it is a great idea, and an idea I completely support, to reduce our taxes sent to Tallahassee, we should also demand a return on the money we send to Washington. As the governor stated in his letter to Washington, we are talking about dollars that come out of the pockets of hard-working Floridians, money that Washington collects and partners with all of the states in our great nation to fund our nation’s priorities.
Let’s not lose sight of how we get a return on our tax dollars and let’s not lose sight of our values and what our priorities are. The Florida Senate has crafted a proposal that can return between $2 billion and $5 billion of Floridians’ money to Florida. The House proposal essentially says … Washington, you keep our money, we don’t want anything in return for it, and we would rather change our priorities than demand our money back.
The Senate proposal provides a solution to the challenges of health care in Florida. A two-pronged approach to meet the guidelines that were communicated a year ago to continue one source of funding, the Low Income Pool (LIP) by the federal government, and a proposal for us to get more of our money back to establish an insurance plan that provides for 800,000 Floridians to pay affordable monthly premiums and co-pays for medical services. By all common-sense standards, this is far superior to having these 800,000 people march into the emergency room at our hospitals, receive care and depart. What will happen to the availability of care and the quality of care if our hospitals are forced to provide this care without being paid?
To close our eyes and cross our fingers is not a solution. “No” is not a solution. The Senate has acknowledged that the federal Medicaid plan is not perfect. The Senate plan does not support expanding a program that is not good for our state. That is why the Senate proposal provides that participants have “skin in the game.” Participants do not “go on” Medicaid, rather they “own” a policy that they pay toward, subsidized by our tax dollars that will otherwise go to other states and not back to us.
A challenge that we join the House with is the challenge of trusting our federal partners. Ronald Reagan said “trust but verify”; we say “trust, but be prepared to adjust.” To that end, built in to the Senate plan are conservative guard rails. Guard rails that will ensure that Florida doesn’t financially regret this decision if our federal partners change the program years from now. If the feds change, so does Florida.
Interestingly, the Montana House recently passed legislation that is strikingly similar to our proposal. So has Indiana. Florida is not the only state to figure out a way to get our money back from Washington in a responsible manner and fund the priorities of our state that are established by our values. It is much more difficult to govern than it is to campaign. Is Medicaid perfect? Absolutely not. Can we make it better? Yes, we absolutely can. Ronald Reagan also said “don’t let perfect get in the way of good.” The perfect solution is not obtainable overnight. A very good solution is obtainable.
Floridians have a financial partnership with both our state and our country. We should demand return on our investment. We should not let the significant dollars each and every one of us send to Washington go without return. The Senate plan will return our money to our state. The Senate plan will enable our citizens to receive necessary medical services and it will enable our hospitals and doctors to be paid for those services.
I agree with our governor when he states that we’re talking about money that belongs to Florida, money generated by the economic success of Florida that the governor has been steadfast and targeted at improving. At this point, there are three hands being dealt: one to the House, one to the Senate, one to the governor. The dealer is Washington. Let’s not cut a bad deal. Let’s get our money back. Let’s pass a balanced budget that enables Florida to cut taxes and meet our established priorities. We can do it, and it’s the responsible thing to do.
Florida Senate President Pro Tempore Garrett Richter is a Republican from Naples. Column courtesy of Context Florida.