United Faculty of Florida -- USF System Chapter
14 May 2015
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Chapter Meeting Tomorrow Noon in Tampa
Tomorrow Friday the Chapter will meet at 12 noon at CDB Restaurant, just east of USF Tampa, on 5104 E. Fowler Ave. All employees of the UFF USF Bargaining Unit are invited. There will be pizza and salad and drinks. Check us out. Join the movement. Bring a colleague.
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IN THIS ISSUE
The Florida Department of Transportation is deep in its long-ignored red ink, local governments are begging for infrastructure to deal with nuisance flooding arising from climate cha-mgrrfl, and several local governments have financial issues with their pension programs. In other words, with the economy improving (but with wages flat) and the state facing billions of dollars of red ink, this is the ideal time to create a financial crisis. Governor Scott and the Florida House rose to the challenge and the legislative session has concluded without a budget.
There has been a lot of sermonizing about irresponsible politicians, but the fact is that last year, we the citizens of Florida elected the governor and all 120 members of the House. Something to think about next year when the next election comes around.
- Meltdown Newspapers editorialized that the one duty of the Legislature is to pass a budget, and they didn't do that. For details on how not to run a state government, see below or click here.
- Medicaid Whatever the denials of the Florida House leadership, this is all about Medicaid and Obamacare. For a bit of background, see below or click here.
- What's Next? There will be a special session which will fix everything. Or not. If history is our guide, then we might be concerned that history is weird. For weirdness past, see below or click here.
On Tuesday, April 28, Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli abruptly adjourned the House. "We didnít get everything we wanted and we wonít get everything that we hoped, but we have done all that we can do for this session," Crisafulli said, telling members to go home "until the Senate decides they are ready to negotiate." With over three days left in the session, a stack of bills in the hopper awaiting the traditional last-minute rush, and no budget, adjournment took a lot of people - including a lot of representatives - by surprise.
The problem was the budget, the one thing that the Legislature is required to pass. The fiscal year ends on June 30, and a new budget is supposed to authorize spending for the fiscal year starting on July 1. The Senate and the Legislature were unable to agree on the billions of dollars required for health care for the poor and nearly poor. According to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA, a.k.a Obamacare), Medicaid would cover people who made less than 133 % of the poverty level (the poverty level is currently $ 24,250 for a family of four). Of course, this would require expanding or finessing Medicaid, and there was the rub.
For several years (see below), Florida has relied on money from the federal government to keep Florida hospitals afloat while the state government dithers about care for poor and nearly-poor people. Last year, the federal government warned Florida that this "Low Income Pool" (LIP) would go away this year. Keeping hospitals afloat while a state government dithers is not what the LIP was for (again, see below). The Senate decided to compromise with the federal government to develop a facsimile of Medicaid expansion while the House decided that it was totally unfair that LIP was going away. After assuming several successive positions on the controversy, Governor Scott decided to support the House and sue the federal government and also investigate the finances of hospitals that claim to be in trouble if nothing is done; see Politifact's dissection of Scott's antics. (Added in press: Governor Scott just changed his position again: now he wants to somehow "continue" the current budget, whatever that means.)
Some Florida senators decided to sue the House, and the Florida Supreme Court agreed that the adjournment was unconstitutional but found that the issue was moot. There will be a special session in June, which almost all observers expect will produce a budget - but the third article in this Biweekly is not so optimistic. Stay tuned.
The Florida House leadership was disingenuous when they claimed that the adjournment was not about Medicaid. Of course, it was about Medicaid. In fact, it was yet another episode in the Obamacare soap opera.
There are two fundamental problems.
In 2005, in the midst of Jeb Bush's second term as governor, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) approved a Low Income Pool as a transitional funding device to enable states to modify how they deliver Medicaid benefits. The transition proceeded slowly, and the LIP was paying a billion dollars a year when it was renewed in 2011. It was renewed again in 2014, when the payment ballooned to over two billion dollars, and the CMS warned the state that ten years was enough time for a transition and come summer 2015, the federal money would stop.
- Poor and nearly poor people get sick. Outside of the moral issue, sick poor people pose public health problems for the rest of society while creating a drag on the economy.
- Poor and nearly poor people often wait until they get critical before going to the emergency room. This makes recovery more problematic and more expensive - on top of adding additional costs to emergency rooms, which are not cheap.
So what was the state supposed to do? The problem was that people without health insurance would self-treat themselves, and when they finally were really sick, they would go to the local emergency room, which would cost a bundle. LIP money was paying hospitals to provide expensive treatment to people who were very sick because they had not gotten timely care.
It was the House that torpedoed the Senate proposal, leaving nothing except a pious hope that the courts will force the CMS to continue a ballooning demonstration project for Florida to make a transition that shows no signs of being achieved.
Poor people are sitting in emergency rooms, state employees are thinking about their paychecks, and USF would like to expand its medical school downtown. So...
It is not clear what happens if the Legislature fails to pass a budget. If there is still no budget by the time school starts, can the university somehow cut paychecks? UFF asked, and the government people didn't know, but the feeling in Tallahassee is that of course the Legislature will pass a budget this coming special session. That's the sentiment reported in the press, with some minor dissent.
This situation is not unprecedented: in 2010, the National Conference of State Legislatures observed that during the previous eight years, at least 19 states had failed to pass a budget in time. There seem to be two major reasons:
So what happens? There seem to be two major options:
- Some financial mess. In 2004, in the aftermath of a recession, eight states failed to pass budgets on time because of gaping holes in the budget. Curiously, extra funds can cause problems, too: during the 1990s, some states were late because of fights over windfalls.
- Problems with the legislature's rules. "States without a limit on the length of legislative sessions are particularly prone to budgetary tardiness." And some states require supermajorities to pass budgets, and if you can't get a supermajority...
Some states have constitutional safeguards to deal with nonfeasant legislatures - but of course, the best way to deal with a nonfeasant legislature is not to elect one. Something to think about next year.
- Stopgap measures. The legislature passes temporary appropriations bills to keep the government going. Congress has done this a lot, and Governor Scott's recent "continuation budget" proposal appears to be a variant of this option.
- Shut down. This usually means furloughs of non-essential personnel, shutting down services, and, recalling California in 2009, issuing IOUs (which some banks agree to honor) (but which wreaks havoc on the bond ratings).
Meanwhile, there will be a special session to deal with the budget. Perhaps that will solve the problem. On the other hand, Florida has a history of special sessions, sometimes years with multiple special sessions, full of sound and fury and resolving nothing. Recalling, say, 1989, when then-Governor Bob Martinez wanted to borrow $ 2 billion for road-building while the Legislature wanted to raise taxes, the result was a special session on roads (which produced nothing), a special session on guns and roads (which produced gun legislation but nothing on roads except an unsuccessful lawsuit against the governor), and a special session on abortion and not on roads (which didn't produce anything on either). The following year, Martinez got his borrowing authority but lost the election.
This being Florida, anything can happen. Including sneaking all kinds of stuff into special sessions, which is why we'll be watching.
Chapter Meeting tomorrow Friday, May 15, at CDB Restaurant, just east of USF Tampa, on 5104 E. Fowler Ave.
There will be pizza, salad, and drinks. All UFF members are invited to attend. Non-members are also invited to come and check us out. Come and join the movement.
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