If it were anyone but Rick Scott, one might believe the governor orchestrated the embarrassing feud between the state House and Senate that led to the abrupt shutdown of the legislative session and left Florida’s finances in tatters, just to create a heroic scenario for himself.
The situation near the end of the 60-day lawmaking marathon was tailor-made for a governor to ride in on a white horse at the critical moment and rescue the beleaguered Sunshine State by coming up with a solution to end the budget crisis and leave everyone happy as they all moseyed into the sunset.
But that’s not Mr. Scott’s style. He was missing in action when House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner were shouting across the Capitol at each other, refusing to budge on their sharply different approaches toward healthcare funding. The dispute culminated with Rep. Crisafulli’s sudden adjournment of the House three days before the scheduled end of the session, a disastrous move that killed dozens of bills awaiting action in the final days.
Lawmakers needed someone to referee the House/Senate dispute, but Mr. Scott was the man who wasn’t there. Now, things have gone from bad to ugly. Democrats sued the House, Mr. Scott sued the federal government, the Senate asked for a budget session in June and the House just kept saying No to everything.
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The situation cries out for an adult to take charge. This presents Mr. Scott with a perfect opportunity to redeem himself by bringing all parties together to reach a compromise before the budget deadline of July 1. He’s the only governor Florida has, the only one who can exert leadership authority and knock heads, if need be. Both the House and Senate are controlled by Mr. Scott’s own Republican Party, which should make matters easier, politically.
The heart of the dispute is how to make up for a pot of money that the federal government has provided for years to hospitals that treat low-income and indigent patients. With the advent of the Affordable Care Act, the federal government let the states know that this program would provide significantly fewer funds — perhaps none at all, in some cases. For Florida, it meant a $1.3-billion budget shortfall that everyone knew was coming, but nobody did anything about.
The Senate’s solution is to accept a Florida-specific version of Medicaid expansion that would bring significant healthcare benefits for 850,000 Floridians — and $51 billion to Florida over a 10-year period. Mr. Crisafulli rejected that. Mr. Scott, who at one time favored this approach, decided he, too, didn’t like it after all.
Now they have to figure out what to do about it. One approach is to shift money around in the budget, dispensing with proposed tax cuts and diverting funds meant for, say, education to make up for the lost federal funding. That’s one way out of the mess. It’s also a terrible idea.
A better approach — which would have the added advantage of helping nearly a million Floridians without insurance coverage — is to accept the Florida-specific, private-market version of Medicaid expansion that the Senate has crafted and that would relieve the crisis in hospital funding.
Mr. Scott has issued a statement calling for a resumption of work, but he failed to chart a course of action to relieve the immediate crisis or to offer a comprehensive solution. The governor wants the rest of the country to see Florida as a state that works, and right now it doesn’t. Only he can fix that.