- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

May 2

Miami Herald on the state budget:

If it were anyone but Rick Scott, one might believe the governor orchestrated the embarrassing feud between the state House and Senate that led to the abrupt shutdown of the legislative session and left Florida’s finances in tatters, just to create a heroic scenario for himself.

The situation near the end of the 60-day lawmaking marathon was tailor-made for a governor to ride in on a white horse at the critical moment and rescue the beleaguered Sunshine State by coming up with a solution to end the budget crisis and leave everyone happy as they all moseyed into the sunset.

But that’s not Scott’s style. He was missing in action when House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner were shouting across the Capitol at each other, refusing to budge on their sharply different approaches toward health care funding. The dispute culminated with Rep. Crisafulli’s sudden adjournment of the House three days before the scheduled end of the session, a disastrous move that killed dozens of bills awaiting action in the final days.

Lawmakers needed someone to referee the House/Senate dispute, but Scott was the man who wasn’t there. Now, things have gone from bad to ugly. Democrats sued the House, Scott sued the federal government, the Senate asked for a budget session in June and the House just kept saying no to everything.

The situation cries out for an adult to take charge. This presents Scott with a perfect opportunity to redeem himself by bringing all parties together to reach a compromise before the budget deadline of July 1. Both the House and Senate are controlled by Scott’s own Republican Party, which should make matters easier, politically.

The heart of the dispute is how to make up for a pot of money that the federal government has provided for years to hospitals that treat low-income and indigent patients. With the advent of the Affordable Care Act, the federal government let the states know that this program would provide significantly fewer funds - perhaps none at all, in some cases. For Florida, it meant a $1.3-billion budget shortfall that everyone knew was coming, but nobody did anything about.

The Senate’s solution is to accept a Florida-specific version of Medicaid expansion that would bring significant health care benefits for 850,000 Floridians - and $51 billion to Florida over a 10-year period. Crisafulli rejected that. Scott, who at one time favored this approach, decided he, too, didn’t like it after all.

Now they have to figure out what to do about it. One approach is to shift money around in the budget, dispensing with proposed tax cuts and diverting funds meant for, say, education to make up for the lost federal funding. That’s one way out of the mess. It’s also a terrible idea.

A better approach - which would have the added advantage of helping nearly a million Floridians without insurance coverage - is to accept the Florida-specific, private-market version of Medicaid expansion that the Senate has crafted and that would relieve the crisis in hospital funding.

Scott has issued a statement calling for a resumption of work, but he failed to chart a course of action to relieve the immediate crisis or to offer a comprehensive solution. The governor wants the rest of the country to see Florida as a state that works, and right now it doesn’t. Only he can fix that.




May 5

Tampa (Florida) Tribune on whether the US quality of life is declining:

Americans don’t elect their next president until November of next year, but between now and then prospective voters will be deluged with campaign oratory, advertising and, almost certainly, controversy. But here’s an uncomfortable fact about the United States that voters should hope all the candidates will address: A recently released global index ranks this nation as 16th in the world in providing a high quality of life for its citizenry.

So what are the presidential aspirants prepared to offer as a prescription for improving the nation’s standing?

This is not a minor matter. For example, according to the Social Progress Index, the United States ranks behind 54 other nations when it comes to women surviving childbirth. It is an unsatisfactory 38th in saving children’s lives. When it comes to life expectancy, Americans are 30th in the world.

These are not the kind of numbers we are accustomed to seeing in what is widely and rightly considered the greatest nation in the world. It remains the land of opportunity. But this doesn’t mean our nation doesn’t have its flaws or shouldn’t continue to strive for improvement.

We all like to think that the United States is a world leader in every important respect and that the reason so many people want to immigrate to America is to share in our national sense of well-being, a sense that usually is absent in their native lands.

But take a closer look at the index. Based on simple observation, it may be difficult to believe, but the United States ranks 87th in cellphone use.

And what about the fact that our nation ranks 49th in high school enrollment and an alarming 38th in the quality of our education system? Can the United States be adequately prepared to maintain and defend its place in the world if its schools cannot match - or even come close to matching - the successes enjoyed by other countries?

Michael E. Porter, a Harvard business school professor who is an expert on international competitiveness and had a role in developing the index, recently was interviewed by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. The index is a “critical measure . of how a country is serving its people,” he told Kristof.

Even if the focus of a government “serving” its people seems to reflect a liberal bias, the Social Progress Index merits politicians’ scrutiny.

Among other things, it tells us that the top-ranked countries are Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Iceland, New Zealand and Canada. At the bottom is the strife-torn Central African Republic, with Chad and Afghanistan the next lowest.

Keep in mind, though, that neither the top nor the bottom countries share, at least to the same extent, the United States’ burden as the globe’s prime peacekeeper. And those top countries hardly compare in population diversity or size. They may offer more stability and government care, but the United States remains the land of opportunity, where innovation and enterprise are rewarded more than in any place in the world.

Porter and his associates think that the most reliable indicator of social progress is poverty, and there is something to be said about judging a nation by how it treats the least fortunate. But no one can claim the United States does not have a social safety net.

Still, all that talk about American exceptionalism should not keep us from frankly evaluating our nation’s needs. The United States is a great nation because it offers individuals the freedom to build a successful life. Our leaders can improve those troubling index numbers by adopting policies that empower more people to seize that opportunity.




May 5

News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Florida, on governing:

Now that the Florida Supreme Court has agreed that the House violated the state constitution by adjourning its regular legislative session prematurely last week, the guilty lawmakers owe taxpayers a refund for their dereliction of duty.

Deduct three days’ pay from their $29,687 annual salaries.

Alas, that won’t come close to fair remuneration for the damage House leaders have caused with their stunt.

In a decision last Friday, five members of the Supreme Court concluded that the House unlawfully adjourned at 1:15 p.m. on April 28, more than three days before the session was scheduled to end at midnight May 1. In a concurring opinion, Justice Barbara Pariente wrote that the constitution “clearly does not permit one house to adjourn in any fashion for more than 72 consecutive hours without the consent of the other house.”

The House left unresolved dozens of bills that had been passed by the Senate, and most importantly, failed to reach agreement with the upper chamber on the Legislature’s sole constitutional responsibility: to pass a balanced budget. The court, however, unanimously rejected a request by Senate Democrats to force the House back into session. The justices concluded that requiring the lawmakers to return to work just hours before the midnight deadline would prove impractical and wouldn’t break the legislative stalemate.

The two sides remain entrenched in ideologically opposite positions on how to address a pending shortfall in funding for indigent health care. The Obama administration has for months warned the state that it would cease paying its $1.3 billion share of Florida’s $2.2 billion Low-Income Pool (LIP) that is used to subsidize hospitals for providing care to the uninsured poor.

The Senate responded by proposing to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid coverage to 800,000 Floridians via a state-run program involving private insurance. Senate leadership has described it as “market-based, consumer-driven” alternatives to straight Medicaid expansion, with “conservative guardrails” to protect taxpayers.

House Republicans have treated Medicaid expansion as if it were the Ebola virus, and failed to offer a serious alternative to LIP funding, preferring to wait and see if the Obama administration will back down at the last minute. If the feds don’t blink, though, that will expose hospitals across the state to financial duress when the money runs out this summer.

The impasse has opened a $4 billion gap in proposed spending between the two chambers. In addition, this intra-party battle over principles has created bad blood between Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli that threatens to spill over into other legislative areas. Crisafulli escalated matters last week when he adjourned the House early.

The Legislature will now be forced to conduct a special session in order to pass a budget before the start of Fiscal Year 2015-16 on July 1. Some of the issues that were left in limbo by the House adjournment could be resurrected and addressed then, but many likely will have to wait until next year.

Agreeing on a budget and fixing the LIP crisis are imperatives. Those won’t happen until the House and Senate mend their political and personal relationships and negotiate in good faith. That’s not off to a good start - right now, they can’t even agree on dates for a special session.

If legislators want to earn their pay, they must stop bickering and start governing.



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