TALLAHASSEE — The Florida House on Friday passed its version of the state budget for next year, setting the stage for wrangling with the Senate – and Gov. Rick Scott – over the future of Medicaid expansion in Florida.
Friday’s 99-17 vote on the budget came after a debate in which only House Minority Leader Perry Thurston spoke against its passage. Democrats had vowed a party-line vote against passage until Thursday, when House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Lutz, unveiled a new plan to bring health coverage to about 100,000 uninsured Floridians.
The Weatherford-Corcoran s aimed primarily at uninsured families with children living on income under the federal poverty level, or $23,550 for a family of four. The plan would require$25 monthly premiums for each person enrolled in return for in $2,000 annual coverage for the recipient’s health care.
Scott on Thursday made clear he did not favor the Weatherford-Corcoran plan. However, Corcoran said he was negotiating with senators such as Joe Negron over coming up with something everyone can go along with.
The plan wasn’t good enough for Thurston, D-Plantation, who called Weatherford’s “bridges-are-burnt” opposition to the state accepting federal money for Medicaid the “500-pound gorilla” in the room. Thurston accused the House leaders of listening to the “whispers” of anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and tea party activists in opposing the expansion.
While Thurston released his members to vote in favor of the budget, he said he remained opposed because it is “built upon a political ideology with which many of us disagree.”
Republicans, meanwhile, took turns before Friday’s vote praising the budget as fiscally responsible, but still full of money for “every stakeholder in the state of Florida,” such as schools, higher education, Everglades restoration and other perennial issues.
The spending was possible in a year when state revenues haven’t been as pinched as those in the past as the state’s economy recovers, representatives said.
“We covered every aspect of your constituencies in this,” said Rep. Ben Albritton, R-Bartow.
Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville and a House Appropriations Committee member, said he was “genuinely excited” about the proposed budget, and the money available.
“What a difference a year makes,” he said.
Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, agreed. From his post as chairman of the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, he said allocations for issues such as mental health and substance abuse showed a big improvement over previous years.
“This is about doing the right thing … We prioritize people,” he said.
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