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House Subcommittees Discuss Deep Budget Cuts

Credit Erich Martin

House budget subcommittees are unveiling their ideas for spending cuts.  House leaders ordered each panel develop a list of potential reductions in light of a grim budget outlook.

Florida is racing toward a fiscal cliff based on the most recent projections from state economists.  That board meets again Friday to come up with its final estimate for budgeting purposes, but if nothing changes there’s less than $150 million available.  To put that in perspective, it’s less than .2 percent of the overall $82 billion budget. 

To get the books in line, House budget chief Carlos Trujillo is proposing austerity measures. 

“All subcommittees were assigned reduction targets,” he explains, “the subcommittees have met and discussed the target amounts, and ways to achieve the targeted savings.”

With GOP leadership loath to raise taxes, there’s little choice but make big cuts.  Trujillo assigned each committee two outlooks with recurring and non-recurring reduction targets. 

When it comes to higher education, Seminole Republican Representative Larry Ahern is suggesting particularly drastic measures. 

“In reaching the total of $266 million recurring cut, we will provide no new funding to universities,” Ahern says.  “This decision will save us 161 million dollars.”

Under a gentler proposal Ahern would give universities $70 million—still about $90 million less than they were expecting.  To justify the move, he notes universities, unlike state agencies, hang on to unspent funds, and they’re sitting on about $800 million. 

But he wants a piece of that, too.

“In order to meet this $38 million non-recurring target,” Ahern explains, “we’d recommend the universities be required to use approximately 5 percent of their fund balance to hold themselves harmless from this one time cut.”          

None of this will be popular with Senate President Joe Negron.  One of the Stuart Republicans highest priorities this year is devoting new funding to higher education. 

Meanwhile, Rep. Manny Diaz (R-Miami) called PreK-12 programs to visit his committee to defend their funding.  Sixteen didn’t show, and each one got the axe. 

Things are also pretty dire for healthcare, where House members envision the biggest cuts. 

“It became very apparent early on that the bulk of our reductions would have to come from Medicaid and focus primarily on how we compensate providers,” Rep. Jason Brodeur (R-Sanford) says.

Even in the milder exercise, the cuts are staggering.

“The long range financial outlook recommended a hospital provider rate increase of $55.2 million based on past actions by the Legislature.  I would not recommend funding the increase.  That was also a subcommittee recommendation,” Brodeur says.  “I would also recommend a reduction in hospital inpatient and or outpatient reimbursements of approximately $220.6 million in general revenue.”

The irony is Brodeur’s proposal comes amid a broader conversation about paltry Medicaid reimbursements driving some providers away from serving lower income Floridians.  So much so the House is reopening old and contentious debates over scope of practice—allowing less qualified providers perform more procedures to boost access. 

Budget chair Trujillo warns the process is only beginning, and the proposals are only guideposts.

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