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Lawmakers Prepare To Hammer Out Differences In House and Senate Budget Plans

Erich Martin

The Florida House and Senate have both passed their versions of next year’s budget. Both proposals spend about $87-billion, but the two plans remain for apart when it comes to how much of that money is put toward issues like healthcare and education.

One major difference between the House and Senate budgets is how they pay hospitals for treating Medicaid patients. The House keeps the current practice largely in place--paying more money to 28 hospitals that typically take on a bigger percentage of Medicaid patients. But Senate President Joe Negron says that system is arbitrary.

“I think Senators are prepared to move quickly to implement a fairer model that says we are going to reimburse hospitals based on actual treatment of a patient rather than what the sign on the doors says to the hospital,” Negron said.

Senator Anitere Flores chairs her chamber's healthcare appropriation committee. She says the Senate agreed to the formula in an effort to get more overall funding for hospitals during last year’s budget negotiations. But she says that plan hurts many private hospitals that provide charity care.

“They get goose egg. They get nothing. Because they don’t meet the arbitrary formula that we had to agree to last year. So what are we doing this year? We’re saying if you, hospital, provide care to an individual there should be funding that follows that patient,” Flores said.

Opponents worry the move will endanger the 28 so called safety net hospitals since they’re likely to see less funding.

The Education budget is another point of contention between the House and Senate spending plans. While both chambers tout “recording funding” in their plans, they differ in where they spend that money. The biggest conflict, though, comes in the form of major education legislation the House has attached to its spending plan. Opponents have called the move “unprecedented,” But House PreK-12 Education Appropriations Chair Manny Diaz says the practice makes sense.

“It’s not unprecedented because all of education policy is driven by the budget. You don’t do anything in education that’s not driven by the budget. So it’s all connected. And having a comprehensive state look at education, those policies go along with the budget which is the FEFP,” Diaz said.

But the Senate has declined to route the bill through budget negotiations and is instead sending it through the committee process.

Proposals in the bill that you’re referring to enjoy support in the Senate and I suspect the majority of the Senate is on the side of parental choice and promoting school choice and so I think the respectful way for that bill to move through the Senate would be for that bill to come to the Senate be referred to committees and move forward on that basis,” Negron said.

The measure includes a scholarship program to help kids who are bullied attend private school, and a move that could disband teachers unions.

Other areas of conflict between the two chambers include environmental spending, and money for affordable housing. But Despite the differences House Appropriations Chair Carlos Trujillo points out they legislature a week ahead of where it was last year. He says now it’s time for the two chambers to pick their priorities.

The aggregates for the most part are relatively the same so now it’s a priority on how that money is distributed," Trujillo said.

Meanwhile, the state’s revenue estimators have released a new forecast. Senate President Joe Negron says the numbers are largely similar to the estimate lawmakers used to deft the budget and will not likely require significant change.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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