Make us your home page

The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Weatherford talks refusing Medicaid dollars at Tiger Bay



House Speaker Will Weatherford offered sympathetic points about people facing the plight of generational poverty Wednesday, saying it's harder than ever for Americans to lift themselves from society's bottom rung.

But Weatherford remains as unconvinced as ever that accepting federal money to provide the state's poorest residents with Medicaid coverage is a way to help them live a better life.

"Medicaid has been proven to be one of the worst forms of insurance you can get in America," he told about 100 people Wednesday at a meeting of Suncoast Tiger Bay. "Nobody in here wants to be on Medicaid."

Florida should instead increase its investments in education, he said, which will help people find jobs that will share the cost of their health coverage.

Weatherford spearheaded opposition among House Republicans last spring to a Senate proposal that would have accepted $51 billion federal dollars to cover about 1 million people.

The federal law originally required states to expand Medicaid coverage to residents making below 138 percent of the federal poverty law or states would lose all their existing Medicaid funding. The Supreme Court ruled that the new law couldn't jeopardize existing Medicaid funding and that expansion, and and any new funding, would be optional.

Weatherford said the law should have offered subsidized coverage to the poorest residents instead of requiring states to expand Medicaid, without mentioning the Senate proposal he rejected essentially would have done just that.

“No one is telling that side of the story," Weatherford said. "No one is talking about the fact that we’ve created two different groups of people."

The toughest question, as judged by Tiger Bay leaders, was about the state's controversial advanced nuclear cost-recovery law. Weatherford was not in office to vote on the law that allows utilities to charge customers for future nuclear projects, but he indicated he probably would have voted in favor given the circumstances at the time, including a sound economy and a need to diversify the state's energy sources. The recession and Fukushima nuclear disaster changed the reality of new nuclear projects in Florida, he said.

"We all know, seven to eight years later, it was not a wise decision," he said. "It was not something that worked out."

Still, Progress Energy and other companies "should not have to pay back every cent," he said.

Stand your ground: Weatherford has not decided when to convene a hearing of the state's "stand your ground" law, but he's ruled out September committee weeks. He said he is not inclined to change the law given widespread support for it among state sheriffs even though he acknowledged reading about its flaws in Tampa Bay Times coverage.

"There's some real troubling stuff," he said.

Citizens rate hikes: As Gov. Rick Scott charts the state this week talking up a vague tax-cut proposal, Buzz asked Weatherford if he viewed a 6 percent rate increase for Citizens policyholders as a tax. He pivoted.

"It will be a bigger tax increase if we get a hurricane and we have rates that are actuarily unsound," he said. "Nobody likes for Citizens rates to go up. I think 6 percent is certainly a lot better than 10 percent (the cap), and so I'm happy to see that it's a moderate increase."

Conflict of interest: Weatherford was defensive about a conflict-of-interest question stemming from a report highlighting his and his wife Courtney's undisclosed involvement in a Texas company that received more than $800,000 from Citizens while he was in the House. The report, written by the Florida Center for Investigate Reporting and published in the Times, "was a hit job that was pushed by an organization that doesn’t like me," he said. As the story pointed out, he said he did not break Florida's ethics laws by not disclosing his wife's $5,000 investment. He said they have not made any income from it.

"It's an asset that is hers," he said.

Fundraising committees: Weatherford said criticism of Rep. Darryl Rouson's now-closed fundraising committee, which he started outside of the Florida Democratic Party's control, does not apply to incoming House Speaker Steve Crisafulli's similar "affiliated party committee." (More here.)

"Rep. Crisafulli talked to the Republican Party about it," he said. "They knew that he was going to do it. ... I think he's using it appropriately."

[Last modified: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 4:18pm]


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours