« April 26, 2013 | Main | April 28, 2013 »

4 posts from April 27, 2013

April 27, 2013

President Obama jokes about Sen. Marco Rubio at White House Correspondents Dinner

In speaking about Sen. Marco Rubio and the 2016 presidential race, President Obama quipped: "The guy has not finished a single term in the Senate and he thinks he's ready to be president. Kids these days!"

Later, the state of Florida was the subject of a joke by Conan O'Brien, who compared the Sunshine State to North Korea.

"Kim Jong-un doesn’t understand we already have an unstable peninsula that will take down America – Florida," cracked O'Brien.


Lawmakers agree on pay hikes for state employees

TALLAHASSEE -- For the first time in seven years, state lawmakers have agreed to give Florida’s employees automatic salary increases, ending a bleak stretch for a 150,000-member workforce that’s weathered cutbacks, pay reductions and slashed benefits.

The House and Senate agreed Saturday to pay those making less than $40,000 an automatic $1,400 across-the-board increase. Those making more than $40,000 will receive a $1,000 raise. On top of that, merit raises of up to $600 could be available as well.

In all, for those 70 percent of employees who make less than $40,000, it could mean a bump between 5 and 10 percent.

“You can’t make up for all of the damage of the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression in one year,” said Doug Martin, a lobbyist for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents 50,000 employees. “But this is very significant. This is very meaningful. This is a good day for state employees.”

The deal was struck between the House and Senate Republican leaders as they negotiate next year’s $74 billion budget, which goes into effect on July 1. The raises, however, don’t kick in until Oct. 1.

“Both (the House and Senate) wanted to recognize the fact that our co-workers in state government throughout Florida work hard every day and we appreciate their contribution to state government and their fellow citizens,” said Senate Appropriations Chair Joe Negron, R-Stuart. “Both (Senate President Don Gaetz) and House Speaker (Will Weatherford) wanted to, as our revenue picture has improved, wanted to show that in a tangible way through a salary increase.”

It’s similar to an automatic pay raise of $1,200 Gov. Rick Scott proposed for all state workers.

The proposed legislative increase will cost about $200 million, plus an additional $10.3 million for Florida Highway Patrol and Florida Department of Law Enforcement officers and staff. For the 4,000 employees in state law enforcement, they will get the same automatic pay raises that state workers do, but will receive an automatic 3 percent increase with a 2 percent raise for those with five years experience.

“We’ve had an issue with state law enforcement,” Negron said, explaining the difference in compensation for law enforcement. “Wwe spend a lot of money training the troopers, then they get hired away by local governments. They are in high demand.

“The current system if you have eight or 10 years experience, you’re making little more than someone who is just starting. That’s why we set it up that way,” Negron said.

Snag in budget talks involves not Medicaid, teacher pay or tax breaks, but license tags

TALLAHASSEE -- A behind-the-scenes effort by a Brandon company to maintain its monopoly on the manufacturing of state license tags has snagged the final hours of negotiations of the state’s $74 billion budget.

On Friday, the House and Senate closed out the transportation portion of the state budget, agreeing to throw out language that the House wanted that would have reserved the job of making state license tags to PRIDE, which oversees the current manufacturing of plates.

“The Senate respectfully believes that it’s better not to limit the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles when they look for cost saving alternatives for manufacturing license plates,” said Senate Appropriations Chair Joe Negron, R-Stuart. “And we prefer that that be a competitive process rather than limited to one particular vendor.”

House Appropriations Chair Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland agreed, and said the House was comfortable with dropping it.

So eyebrows were raised Saturday morning when Negron announced that he and McKeel were re-opening negotiations on transportation.

“I just wanted to let people know that we may have issues to discuss with proviso at a later meeting in case anyone was interested in that,” Negron said. “I just do that to make the process more transparent.”

What exactly is the issue?

Negron didn’t say at the 10 a.m. meeting, but the Times/Herald has learned it could be the license tags that appeared to have been settled just a day ago.

Although it sounds mundane, license tags are big business.


Continue reading "Snag in budget talks involves not Medicaid, teacher pay or tax breaks, but license tags" »

House and Senate address concerns about hospital Medicaid funding

The House and Senate have compromised on how much money to put toward hospital Medicaid funding, allaying many of the concerns raised by safety net hospitals.

Under the compromise, an extra $88 million will be added to the pot of money used to pay all of the state's hospitals. Initially, the Senate had proposed no extra spending.

The Senate also backed down from its position that counties that use local taxes to draw down extra federal dollars should share almost half of their windfall with the rest of the state. Under the compromise, those counties only have to share 10 percent of their additional federal funding statewide.

Tony Carvalho, President of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, said he won't know for sure how this impacts individual hospitals out until budget negotiators finalize the actual allocation formula. But the compromise reached today is a positive sign, he said.

"The formula that I believe that they've agreed to on DRG's would protect safety net hospitals," he said. "Again the disappointment is any diversion of the local tax money, but its 20 percent of what could have been a worst-case scenario."

Last year, the Legislature directed the state Agency for Health Care Administration to create a new system that pays hospitals flat fees based on Medicaid patients' actual ailments and treatment. This diagnosis-related group model -- or DRG -- is similar to how the federal government reimburses providers under Medicare. 

Continue reading "House and Senate address concerns about hospital Medicaid funding" »