June 02, 2015

Scott signs 17 bills, including guardianship reforms

Gov. Rick Scott today signed another 17 bills into law, including provisions to make abuse of elders by their guardians much rarer.

The goal of the guardianship bill (HB 5) is to change how courts appoint guardians and ensure their wishes are protected.

“The reforms in this bill help to improve how guardians are appointed, better protect the wishes and rights of an incapacitated person once a guardian assumes power over them and clarify the responsibilities of guardians,” Rep. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami, told the Times/Herald after the bill passed the House and Senate unanimously in April.

Here are the other bills signed into law by Scott today. He has so far approved 100 from the Legislature's regular session.

Continue reading "Scott signs 17 bills, including guardianship reforms" »

Climate change group gets cheeky in Gov. Rick Scott critique

Climate change group Forecast the Facts is taking jabs at Gov. Rick Scott with a website targeting the governor and his Wisconsin counterpart Scott Walker for their positions on global warming.

Dubbed "#ScottAway the Truth," the site subs out words like "climate change" from sentences about climate change. Scott and Walker have reportedly instructed people who work for their environmental agencies not to use the "C" words.

Here are a couple sentences, as they look after being Scotted Away:

"Due to MAGIC WEATHER, glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world - including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa."

"In the U.S., FREE OUTDOOR HEATING is predicted to cause more heat waves, flooding, wildfires, sea level rise and drought."

The website was launched Tuesday, when both governors were in Orlando for a Scott-sponsored forum of GOP presidential hopefuls.

Scott's tax cuts take major hit in House's slimmed-down package

Gov. Rick Scott picked a good day to be out of town Tuesday, as the Florida House eviscerated his proposed package of tax cuts.

The House Finance & Tax Committee approved tax cuts with a two-year value of $436 million, far short of the nearly $700 million Scott proposed in January and the $690 million the House itself advocated during the regular session. But shifting political winds over health care and hospital reimbursements demanded changes.

"We have revised that number," said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, the panel's chairman. "We had to fish with the lures that we thought would get bites."

The House figure of $436 million involves creative math, as the value of the tax cuts next year is $299 million, with $137 million more counted in cuts set to take effect the following year.

Scott's proposed cell phone tax cut, which he promoted during the regular session with the gimmickry of a "tax cut calculator," took a severe hit. He wanted to cut the tax on cell phones and satellite TV by $43 a month, and the House bill cuts it by $10 a year in the first year and $20 a year the second year.

"We're looking at 83 cents a month," said an unimpressed Rep. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando.

Scott also wanted to repeal the sales tax on college textbooks, but the House bill calls for a three-day textbook holiday on Aug. 21, Jan. 8 and May 13. Scott wanted to permanently repeal the sales tax on manufacturing equipment, but the House does not include that.

The House dropped a one-day sales tax holiday for camping equipment on July 4, saying that in a June special session, the Department of Revenue wouldn't have enough time to implement it and Florida businesses wouldn't have enough time to promote it.

The House bill includes a three-day back to school sales tax holiday (Aug. 7-9), a slight reduction in the sales tax on business rents and a reduction in the tax on pear cider, which had been classified as wine and taxed at a higher rate.

Democrats tried unsuccessfully to create a new revenue source by taxing profits of multinational corporations with operations in Florida. Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, the amendment's sponsor, said closing tax "loopholes" is a matter of tax fairness and would generate $500 million a year in state tax revenue to fund health care expansion, increase reimbursement rates to hospitals and lessen reliance on local property taxes to pay for health care.

Republicans said the tax would be bad for business and would eliminate jobs and they killed the amendment on an 11 to 6 party-line vote. The tax cut bill passed 12-5 as Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, sided with Republicans.

The Senate, which continues to advocate a health care expansion plan funded with federal Medicaid money, has shown less enthusiasm for cutting taxes than the House or Scott. The Senate Finance & Tax Committee is tentatively scheduled to vote on a tax cut bill next week.

Economic Growth Summit: Rick Scott

@PatriciaMazzei

LAKE BUENA VISTA -- Florida Gov. Rick Scott opened his Republican candidate forum in Orlando with a short video touting his administration's economic record. He then took the stage, under a large banner reading "RICK SCOTT'S ECONOMIC GROWTH SUMMIT."

The crowd at the Walt Disney World Resort Convention Center is made up largely of business people, with a robust media contingent seated in the back.

HIS PITCH, IN BRIEF: "The next president has to do what we've done in Florida to turn around the nation's economy."

FRIENDLY COMPETITION: Scott, as he tends to do, compared Florida to Texas. He boasted that Florida has "added 271,000 jobs" in the past year -- more than the Lone Star State, he said: "That's the first time in years that we've done that."

UNFRIENDLY COMPETITION: Scott also got in a dig at New York state government. He has openly recruited businesses there.

BIGGEST APPLAUSE LINE: "If you don't live in Florida, I hope you move here, and while you're here, spend every dime you have."

FUTURE AMBITIONS?: "We believed any one of us could be president," Scott said of his childhood. For now, he's said to be considering a U.S. Senate run in 2018.

GOP presidential hopefuls gather at Disney to talk economy

@PatriciaMazzei

LAKE BUENA VISTA -- Eyeing Florida's delegate-rich 2016 primary, six Republican presidential candidates or potential candidates will speak Tuesday at an event organized by Gov. Rick Scott.

A seventh candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, was scheduled to kick off the day-long summit, but he got stuck on Capitol Hill to vote on the revised Patriot Act, the USA Freedom Act. Rival Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, delayed a vote on the legislation last week, forcing Rubio to staying in Washington D.C. Rubio will appear in Disney via video instead.

Paul isn't attending Tuesday's event. Neither are several other declared candidates. The summit was put together by Scott's political committee, Let's Get to Work, and not the Republican Party of Florida.

Scott has said he wants attendees -- former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Wisconsin Gov. Rick Perry, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush -- to focus on the economy, which Scott has made the central issue of his time in Tallahassee. The hawkish GOP field has been much more focused foreign policy, leaving economic issues so far to Democrats.

Only Rubio and Huckabee among Scott's guests have formally launched their 2016 campaigns, with Perry set to do so Thursday. The others are still able to raise campaign cash -- lots of it, in some cases -- at events organized by their political action committees without running afoul of campaign-finance law, though Bush in particular has faced criticism over the tactic.

May 29, 2015

Feds say they're not quite ready to approve governor's LIP plan

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Friday that it has not signed off on the proposal by Gov. Rick Scott to rely on local governments and safety net hospitals to draw down money for the uninsured and raised concerns about the impact of the change on communities -- like Miami -- that provide the bulk of the funding for the Low Income Pool.

"CMS continues to be engaged with Florida regarding the state's LIP proposal and the May 26 letter but has not communicated approval,'' said Ben Wakana, press secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in response to a question by the Herald/Times. "CMS is reviewing the proposal and public comments, and working to understand the implications of the letter as well as the viability and sustainability of the proposed funding mechanism."

Under the governor's plan, announced by the Agency for Health Care Administration in a letter to the federal government on Wednesday, the state would offset the loss of $1 billion into the Low Income Pool by relying on local hospitals and local governments to raise $900 million in financing to draw down $1.2 billion in federal funds. The financing arrangements are known as intergovernmental transfers. 

As a return on their investment, hospitals would be rewarded a 10 percent profit -- a cost to the program of about $100 million. The state would then use the $1 billion promised by the federal government in Low Income Pool funding to reimburse teaching hospitals and increase patient reimbursement rates.

Continue reading "Feds say they're not quite ready to approve governor's LIP plan" »

Revisiting the Legislature's budget showdown

With the Legislature starting a special session June 1 to settle on a budget, the elephant in the room is still the debate over what to do about Medicaid expansion.

Gov. Rick Scott and the House refuse to budge on the issue, arguing that expanding the federal health coverage program for the poor is bad for the state. The Senate has proposed -- and since modified -- a private solution that aims to use federal money guaranteed through the Affordable Care Act.

The sides were so intractable on the $4 billion difference between their proposed budgets, the House adjourned three days early in April, a move the Florida Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional. Scott has issued dire warnings of a "government shutdown" and ordered state agencies to draw up lists of critical services that must continue if the Florida Legislature cannot pass a budget by July 1.

Tied up into the debate is a joint state and federal program called the Low Income Pool, a discretionary program started in 2005 that helps pay hospitals for uncompensated care expenses from low income patients that are uninsured or underinsured (including Medicaid patients).

Despite telling Florida in April 2014 that the $2.2 billion LIP program was going to lose about $1.3 billion in matching funds, Scott included the program’s federal money in his proposed budget. When Washington stuck to its timeline of ending the program’s federal match, budget talks were thrown into chaos.

Washington has since backed off its yearlong warning telegraphing LIP’s demise, suggesting instead the program could be gradually phased out. But questions that still remain about what to do with the budget, even with federal money coming back.

There have been plenty of arguments about both the LIP and Medicaid expansion, with PolitiFact Florida working hard to cover all the bases. Turn to PolitiFact Florida for a look back at our fact-checks related to Medicaid expansion.

May 28, 2015

Scott's LIP plan would cut $214 million from hospitals, most in South Florida

Gov. Rick Scott released details of his latest proposal to draw down $2.3 billion in federal Low Income Pool funds on Thursday. While the formula is higher than previously announced, it does not use any state dollars to backfill the loss but it cuts reimbursements to hospitals by $214 million.

Hardest hit are hospitals that do the bulk of the state's charity care. Among those facing the deepest cuts are: Jackson Memorial (-$34.5 million), Broward General (-$22.3 million), Shands in Gainesville (-$34.5 million), Shands in Jacksonville (-$36.5 million) and All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg (-$12.9 million.)

Under the plan, announced by the Agency for Health Care Administration in a letter to the federal government on Tuesday, the state would not lose $1 billion in federal health care money as previously suggested but the money would be offset by local hospitals and local governments, which would raise $900 million in financing to draw down $1.2 billion in federal Low Income Pool funds. The financing arrangements are known as intergovernmental transfers. 

As a return on their investment, hospitals would be rewarded a 10 percent profit -- a cost to the program of about $100 million. The state would then use the $1 billion promised by the federal government in Low Income Pool funding to reimburse teaching hospitals and increase patient reimbursement rates.

Continue reading "Scott's LIP plan would cut $214 million from hospitals, most in South Florida" »

Scott on Senate's latest health care plan, FHIX 2.0: 'I'm not doing it'

@scontorno @MaryEllenKlas

Gov. Rick Scott all but threatened a veto Thursday of a Senate plan aimed at expanding health insurance coverage to more than 800,000 uninsured Floridians by drawing down federal money into a privately run insurance exchange.

"I'm not doing it," Scott told the Herald/Times after a meeting of the Enterprise Florida board of directors in Tampa. He repeated his claim at the Senate's Florida Health Insurance Affordability Exchange (FHIX) program is a tax increase but, when asked, he refused to explain how he reaches that conclusion.

"I can't think of many health care programs that have no cost," Scott said. "I mean there's nothing free out there, right? The study out there says it's going to cost $5 billion over the first 10 years and look at history, if you look at Medicare, how much more Medicare costs today than what they anticipated -- Medicaid."

Under the FHIX plan, the state would pay $5 billion over 10 years to draw down $50 billion in federal revenue to cover the uninsured. By contrast, the governor does not have the same complaint about using local taxpayer dollars in counties with healthcare taxing districts to spend as much as $900 million to draw down $1.2 billion in federal revenue to pay for health care for people who can't afford insurance or don't quality for it in Florida. 

Under the latest proposal from Scott's Agency for Health Care Administration, the state would rely on local taxpayers to draw down the federal money to raise reimbursement rates and pay for services for patients who cannot afford their own health insurance. His office released the impact on hospitals of that proposal on Thursday.  

A contrary point of view to the governor's was offered by Legislature's chief economist, Amy Baker, testified before a Senate committee last month. Baker said her analysis showed that, rather than raising taxes, the FHIX plan would result in a state surplus over time.

Here’s the full exchange between Scott and Tampa Bay Times reporter Steve Contorno in Tampa today:

Continue reading "Scott on Senate's latest health care plan, FHIX 2.0: 'I'm not doing it'" »

May 27, 2015

How Rick Scott snubbed the Florida GOP on presidential cattle call

via @adamsmithtimes

Gov. Rick Scott will be front and center before the national media Tuesday as he hosts his Economic Growth Summit at Disney World, where most of the top tier presidential candidates will be talking about the vision for growing the economy.

Overlooked on this high profile cattle call is how the entire thing was put together through Scott's political committee, Let's Get to Work, rather than the state GOP. This is unprecedented and a reminder that the leading elected Republican in Florida still has a rocky - at best - relationship with the Republican Party of Florida. It's been that way since party officials snubbed him early this year by electing state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia the party chairman, rather than Scott's preferred candidate.

Traditionally, the state party has used these events to raise money through sponsorships, speaking fees, and the like that ultimately helps pay for the Republican nominee's general election campaign in Florida. No one from Let's Get to Work has yet responded to our inquiries today, so we don't know if Scott's committee is raising any money off his summit. 

Here's the rough schedule Tuesday:

Continue reading "How Rick Scott snubbed the Florida GOP on presidential cattle call" »