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Scott budget plan helps schools, hits hospitals

Gov. Rick Scott proposed a $66.4 billion state budget Tuesday that would restore $1 billion in previous cuts to public schools, and at a Capitol press conference he issued a veto threat to the Legislature: "I will not sign a budget that does not significantly increase state funding for education."

The Republican governor who talked about jobs during his first year in office now talks about "education and jobs," and said his travels around the state have reinforced how important education is to everyday Floridians. "They want education to be a priority," Scott said. "I'm committed to act on what I've heard."

To find that schools money, Scott, who once ran Columbia/HCA, the nation's largest for-profit hospital network, proposes massive change to the way hospitals are reimbursed for care under the Medicaid program. By imposing a "flat rate" reimbursement system and limiting hospital and emergency room stays, the state would save $1.8 billion. Pointing to a chart showing skyrocketing Medicaid costs, Scott said: "If we do nothing, this line will bankrupt our state."

The new Medicaid reimbursement system would have a major impact at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, the state's largest not-for-profit hospital. Scott aides met with Jackson officials Wednesday to open a dialogue over the proposed changes, which require legislative approval. 

The governor also pitched a package of modest tax relief proposals. They include doubling the business tax exemption from $25,000 to $50,000, broadening the manufacturing sales tax exemption for companies and creating a $50,000 tangible personal property tax exemption for businesses (subject to voter approval). 

-- Steve Bousquet