What could Florida do with $470 million extra dollars to spend?
That is the question Senate Democrats are asking now that they've calculated the state would have that money to spend if it accepted $51 billion federal Medicaid expansion dollars. They have answers, too, outlining this morning how they would spend the money.
A plan to use Medicaid expansion dollars to buy private insurance for poor Floridians was rejected by House Republicans last year. Two bills intended to reignite the issue during the 2014 session aren't going anywhere.
Lately, proponents of Medicaid expansion have tried to make a business case. They say reducing the number of uninsured Floridians creates jobs and helps small businesses save money they would otherwise have to spend insuring low-wage workers. But House Republicans still haven't budged, and Gov. Rick Scott is now avoiding the topic.
Senate Democrats said the $470 million is a "conservative estimate" based on various studies of the impact of Medicaid expansion by the state Agency for Health Care Administration, Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute, Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy and state budget analysts.
Here are some of their ideas on spending the money:
- $236 million for Department of Juvenile Justice prevention programs
- $141 million to repair leaking roofs and failing HVAC units in Florida's universities and community colleges
- $207 million to give teachers 2 percent raises
- $200 million for springs cleanup
- $62.5 million to hire 600 new Florida Highway Patrol troopers
Here is the full press release:
With Governor Rick Scott and the Legislature prepared once again to walk away from $51 billion in Florida taxpayers' money on the table to expand Medicaid in the state, Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith (D-Ft. Lauderdale) and members of the Senate Democratic Caucus on Monday outlined just how expensive that monetary snub would prove to be.
"By very conservative estimates, if Florida were to finally relent and accept our tax dollars under Medicaid expansion, it would not only relieve the state's high costs of uncompensated care, for example, but it would free up at least $470 million – almost half a billion dollars – in General Revenue," said Senator Smith. "That money would go a long way to more quickly address the critical needs of the state – rooftops for schools, safer roadways, clean water for fishing and swimming, to name just a few - that have escalated as a result of the past years' dramatic budget cuts."
To illustrate the many projects that could be jumpstarted by $500 million in general revenue, Senators Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood), Geraldine Thompson (D-Orlando), Darren Soto (D-Orlando), Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee) and Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville) outlined a number of priorities under their legislative oversight.
For example, $8.5 million could mean education for the new doctors Florida is desperately seeking, $110 million could establish new diversion programs like sentencing alternatives and specialty courts for drugs offenses and veterans issues, $141 million could repair leaking roofs and failing HVAC units in Florida's universities and colleges, and $200 million could jumpstart the critical cleanup of the state's endangered springs.
Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines
Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
"Money from general revenue now going for things Medicaid expansion would cover could go to other priorities," said Senator Smith. "The money would also go a long way in creating the kinds of jobs that actually support families – jobs like construction, trades, health care, and environmental scientists. Expanding Medicaid won't cost us a dime. But leaving that money on the table will cost us plenty. It's high time our unclaimed property – our tax money – was returned to where it came from in the first place."