The Florida Legislature begins an extra-inning session on Monday with two strikes against its chances of success: The House of Representatives has shown little willingness to compromise on its no-Medicaid-expansion stance, and Gov. Rick Scott is even more adamantly opposed.
Only the Senate has actually confronted the issue, coming up with a creative approach to the state’s budget dilemma. Led by Senate President Andy Gardiner, the upper chamber has put forth a free-market, Florida-specific solution. The key feature is a state exchange that would allow some 850,000 uninsured Floridians to have access to Medicaid, all of it financed by the federal government.
The unwillingness of House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and his colleagues to go along, plus the obstinate, no-way opposition of Gov. Scott — even though neither has a credible alternative — stymied the regular session and casts a shadow over the special session before it even starts.
Last week, the Senate attempted to mollify the governor and House critics like budget chief Richard Corcoran by amending the original proposal. Under the revision, new beneficiaries could go straight into a private-market plan on Jan. 1, without enrolling in the existing Medicaid system. The revised bill would provide vouchers to allow the previously uninsured to buy a policy through a state-based insurance exchange.
Even though this is a more conservative plan than the original and puts additional space between the proposal and Obamacare — the healthcare insurance plan that conservatives like Gov. Scott want no part of — it went nowhere. No dice, said Mr. Corcoran. Mr. Scott also dismissed the compromise, raising the specter of an eventual tax increase.
This might make at least a smidgen of sense if they had a viable option that would both give Florida access to a federal pot of money, as would Medicaid expansion ($50 billion over a decade), and if it provided for increased healthcare benefits for the 1 million or so Floridians who currently have no coverage.
But, in fact, neither Mr. Corcoran and his allies, nor the governor, have an alternative vision that does anything except maintain the status quo that makes Florida one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to the level of uninsured.
Without that alternative, it will be hard to balance Florida’s budget and still do all the things that Gov. Scott once promised and that Floridians expect, including the prospect of a tax break from what was once forecast to be a budget surplus.
This is nothing but pure political partisanship. Florida’s highest priority should be the welfare of its residents, keeping the doors of Jackson Memorial and public hospitals across the state open to all without having to operate at a deficit.
Mr. Scott’s stance throughout this budget standoff is particularly hard to understand because there is a perfectly acceptable solution at hand — the Senate’s plan — but he’s refusing to accept it solely for political reasons even though he will surely be blamed for letting it happen.
Not since 1992 has the state flirted with a budgetary disaster so close to the end of the fiscal year on June 30. As the state’s Republican chief executive, with a Republican-controlled Legislature, the governor shares responsibility for this dire situation, yet he has shown himself incapable of leading. Instead of helping to find a way out, he has ordered state agencies to prepare for a possible “government shutdown.”
That’s no solution. In a time of crisis, the governor of the country’s third-largest state should be able to offer something better than a plan for failure.