The Florida Legislature missed an opportunity to help communities thrive, improve financial stability for families and fix our upside-down tax system.
A healthy workforce is a productive one, and yet lawmakers have not expanded Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of low-income residents so that they can access affordable health care services. Instead, the House and Senate have moved in the opposite direction by cutting Medicaid for the people who need it the most– Floridians with disabilities and seniors. These residents will continue bearing the brunt of a cut to retroactive Medicaid eligibility (RME) for another year. Without RME, they will face enormous medical debt from unanticipated catastrophic illnesses, injuries that require hospitalization and end-of-life nursing home care.
The House wanted to permanently eliminate RME, but the Florida Policy Institute and other groups vigorously opposed this plan. While the one-year extension of the cut in the final budget agreement is far from ideal, the House recommendation, if implemented, would have locked in this cut for the state’s most vulnerable residents.
Although residents here struggle to find affordable apartments to rent, the Legislature once again failed to appropriate full funding for the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund. While it’s certainly important to allocate funds specifically for hurricane-impacted communities, the $200 million appropriation is far below the full $338 million proposed by the governor.
Another important part of the formula for economic growth is investment in K-12 and higher education. The $242 per pupil increase over the current year budget is welcome — public schools are in dire need of student services and support for teacher pay — as is the $75 per pupil increase in the flexible pot of base student allocation. This bright spot is marred, however, by the introduction of a new private school voucher program. The program will be funded by diverting $132 million from general revenue for public schools in the upcoming fiscal year and it will grow in subsequent years.
Additionally, the budget agreement does not remove barriers that make it difficult for residents to work. Take, for example, the underfunding of work supports necessary for families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits so they can get and keep jobs in today’s labor market. Many of these supports were actually identified by the Florida Legislature in a 2018 study on the factors that affect work participation and result in sanctions for TANF and SNAP recipients. In addition, the House and Senate continue to fund TANF payments at about 17 percent of the poverty threshold, which is too low for families to afford even the most basic necessities for their children.
There’s also little funding for key rehabilitative services that would facilitate inmates’ successful re-entry into communities. Moreover, as the Department of Corrections faces massive cuts in the current fiscal year for programs like education and substance abuse treatment, the budget allocation for these programs in the upcoming fiscal year falls short.
“Despite greater overall funding for environmental programs than what was included in the governor’s budget, the Legislature still fails to provide the full $100 million allocation for Florida Forever, dollars earmarked for state land acquisition. After years of disinvestment and mounting environmental problems, the Legislature should provide full funding for this critical preservation program. Further, both the House and Senate passed legislation to create three tolled expressways through Florida, which could endanger our state’s wildlife and preserves.
A state like Florida prone to natural disasters should also be prioritizing infrastructure projects to modernize schools. State and local investment in school capital expenses — construction, repairs and technology — remain 71 percent below 2008 levels after accounting for inflation, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. But the Legislature again spends the entire $158 million allocation for school maintenance and repairs on charter schools, leaving out traditional public schools.
The House and Senate also agreed to a $90 million tax cut package. While tax holidays may provide a nominal benefit to families, long-term, targeted investments in communities is key to growing the economy.
Lastly, the Legislature missed the chance to reform Florida’s regressive tax system. A recent report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy shows that the lowest-income Floridians — those earning less than $18,700 — contribute 12.7 percent of household income to taxes, while the state’s wealthiest residents contribute a 2.3 percent share.