Senate President Andy Gardiner spoke with reporters for about 10 minutes Tuesday after the Senate adjourned its first session of the 2015 Legislative Session. The discussion highlighted the differences separating the House and Senate as they begin writing a state budget and addressing other priorities.
While the Senate is focused on prison reform, providing access to health care for the uninsured and new regulations for greyhound racing, the House priorities include a gambling initiative, water policy and changes to the Florida Retirement System.
Gardiner identified LIP funding as a keystone budget issue, affecting how the spending plan is constructed. The federal government, ending a program that provides a subsidy to hospitals for the care of the uninsured, has created a $2 billion hole for lawmakers to fill.
Here’s a transcript of the conversation. The questions have been edited for brevity.
Gardiner initiated the discussion talking about SB 2, the greyhound injury-reporting bill he had promised to pass on the first day.
Sen. Andy Gardiner: It was good to pass out Sen. (Eleanor) Sobel’s bill today. That was a bill left hanging around last year, for various reasons never made it and I had made a commitment to Mrs. (Don) Gaetz and President Gaetz we would send it the very first day and we did that. Now, we’re waiting for the House to see what they do with it.
Q: They have a gambling bill:
Gardiner: You know that gaming bill I haven’t reviewed all of it. Seen all of it. Obviously with the Majority leader of the House sponsoring it must be a priority of the House leadership and we assume House Leadership is going to be sending that over, so we’ll take a look at it once it gets here.
Q: You said at one point today that it is day one of 60. It also seems day one of a poker game between the two sides. (Steve) Crisafulli is talking about water policy; it’s coming out tomorrow. You’re speaking about Medicaid expansion …
Gardiner: Actually we here with water policy, passed it out last week. We’re moving our water policy. We’re on track for everything we have planned and when we have it planned.
I think the unknowns are the LIP pool and what that means to the budget. At least we here in the Senate we are having a lot of dialogue to what we do on that. It’s hard to really start thinking about tax cuts and some of these other things that you want to do when you still have the LIP issue not resolved.
So, we’ve got a few weeks to work on that. From the Senate standpoint we are on track with everything we intend to get done.
Q: On water you see policy moving quickly. Will the hang-up be on funding?
Gardiner: The funding will come later. It’s the natural part of the process. The foundation piece of it needs to move a little quicker because once you get into the spending part …
There are things in our water policy — ours is more comprehensive, it has a lot more of the oversight, science-based decisions. It has the bike trials and the access to public lands — land management. Those things are really important. We’ll sit down with the House bill and ours and try to mesh them together. Again, we’ve got a long way to go.
Q: is this Senate any more inclined to change the Florida Retirement System; requiring new hires to join an investment plan?
Gardiner: As I have said, I don’t think the votes have changed in the Senate. It’s kind of where we are and certainly it is within anyone’s prerogative to bring that issue forward. We have been very clear on moving the local fix, which has been around for a while. The House had split those and can certainly put them back together. We’ll see where we are but I’m not sure that the votes have changed.
Q: What if the House said we would give you Medicaid expansion if you give us FRS reform?
Gardiner: It is not my style to sit around and horse-trade. I believe you just do what you think is the right thing to do. That’s kind of how I look at the world. I don’t think we’re going to live in that world but we’ll see, we’ll see.
Q: The governor did not mention a couple of your priorities in his speech: dealing with the budget and Medicaid expansion. He also didn’t mention prisons, testing but you are moving forward on all of those issues.
Gardiner: I don’t think the governor has to respond to every little thing we do. It’s his state of the state and he’s getting his message out there. On the budget, at the end of the day, the governor makes a recommendation on the budget and we have to write the budget. So, we have an obligation to look at all of these issues.
I am the one who asked Sen. (Greg) Evers to look at the Department of Corrections issue. We hope the House has a similar proposal and then we can start working through it. So, something not being mentioned I don’t take it as a slight as there is not support there.
Q: Does it show he does not intend to show leadership, but that he is kind of deferring to you?
Gardiner: I don’t know about that; you would have to ask him. I feel very comfortable about where the Senate, especially where these senators are going with all of those issues. I think they are on the right track.
Q: He said in his speech he does not want the surplus to be squandered on special interests. Do you think hospitals are a special interest?
Gardiner: As it is with anything you have to start defining “special interest.” I wouldn’t put health care and those who don’t have access to health care in that category. I think the governor and his staff have done a pretty good job of trying to negotiate with CMS on some type of resolution on the LIP pool and until you know what the modified LIP is you start to get into some challenges on drafting a budget.
So, we’ll see. It’s day one and we’ve got a long way to go.