Welcome back to Diagnosis, a vertical that focuses on the crossroads of health care policy and politics.
Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ announcement last week that state legislators are coming back to the state Capitol for a Special Session dealing with property insurance probably pushes back the moment of reckoning for tens of millions of health care funding spread throughout the $110 billion budget.
Legislators voted for the budget back in March, but they have yet to send the spending blueprint for the next fiscal year to the Governor. The Governor will likely act very quickly once it officially lands on his desk, but it would be unusual for him to hand out a bunch of budget vetoes just days before lawmakers are about to gavel in for a new session. Legislative relations 101 would dictate that the Governor would want to wait to see what legislators do during this next session before making a final decision on the budget.
DeSantis’ proclamation set the dates of the special session to run from May 23 to May 27. The new budget covers spending from July 1, 2022, to June 30 of next year. In the years when legislators hold Sessions in March and April, it’s not unusual for budget vetoes to come rolling in sometime around Memorial Day.
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— Did someone say veto? —
Targeting a budget item as a “turkey,” a Tallahassee-coined term for special projects that sounds nicer than pork — a bit more art than science.
Florida TaxWatch released its annual Budget Turkey Watch Report and the latest edition listed 166 projects in the fiscal year 2022-2023 budget that the organization believes did not adhere to joint appropriations rules and require further scrutiny.
But this long $281 million list of “turkeys” includes just one health project: a $2 million project for Hernando County championed by Sen. Danny Burgess.
What’s not included on the Florida TaxWatch list is a $2 million appropriation for long-acting reversible contraception that was championed by Senate President Wilton Simpson. Lawmakers included funding for LARC in the so-called “sprinkle list” that was added to the budget in the last moments of negotiations March 9.
The issue had not been included in either chamber’s initial budget. It also was not, and it was not considered by spending panels.
In explaining the omission of the LARC funding from the turkey report Kurt Wenner, senior vice president of research for Florida TaxWatch, told Florida Politics that the $2 million directed for LARC funding wasn’t a member “appropriations project,” as defined by the joint rules.
Wenner also noted that Lawmakers included $2 million for LARC in the FY 21-22 budget. Despite being a priority for Simpson, though, Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed the spending item. DeSantis is being urged once again to veto the funding.
— Not quite ‘turkey’ —
Though not identified as “turkeys” because the appropriations rules were followed, Florida TaxWatch also recommended that the Governor provide special scrutiny to a number of other budget projects, including providing funding to private organizations and local governments for improvements to facilities that the state does not own.
TaxWatch estimates that legislators agreed to spend nearly $159 million for capital improvements at 64 facilities that are not owned by the state — a fact that has prompted budget vetoes by other Governors in the past. Examples include $80 million for the Leon Haley Jr., M.D. Trauma Center in Jacksonville; $10 million for Tampa General Hospital Global Emerging Disease Institute; $5.39 million for Special Hearts Farm; $3.9 million for the Hialeah Housing Authority; $2.5 million for the K9s for Warriors Center for Operations and Training; and $1.3 million for the Miami Learning Experience School-Adult Program.
The projects are scattered across the various health care agencies. The Department of Children and Families has about $33.7 million in capital outlay funds for 28 capital improvement projects for non-state-owned facilities. The Department of Health has more than $101 million in capital outlay funds for 12 projects, $90 million of which is spent on the two hospital projects.
“There are millions of dollars in the budget for member projects for private organizations and local governments to construct, renovate, repair, or even purchase buildings/facilities the state does not/will not own,” the report notes. “Governors have vetoed some of this fixed capital outlay spending, citing that local government facilities are a local responsibility and there is no clear statewide return on investment for constructing, maintaining, or renovating privately-owned facilities.”