TALLAHASSEE, Florida — State officials warned on Monday that if Florida legislators fail to reach a deal on a new state budget, everything from child abuse investigations to money for teachers could be halted in coming weeks.
Gov. Rick Scott last week ordered agencies to give him a list of the state's critical needs if a new budget is not in place by the end of June. Some agencies responded with a list of what needs to be funded, while others said what would happen without a spending plan.
The list of services that could be impacted by a shutdown was daunting with top agency officials saying that child support payments could be halted, Florida would no longer participate in the Medicaid program, the state would no longer respond to any hurricanes, and that the Florida National Guard would not be available in an emergency. Even Florida lottery ticket sales could be suspended.
State legislators ended their session abruptly last month without passing a new state budget because the House and Senate have been at odds over the budget and health care spending. House Republicans oppose a Senate proposal to extend health care coverage to 800,000 Floridians by tapping into federal money linked to President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.
Scott is also opposed to Medicaid expansion and — since the session ended — has taken a more antagonistic approach to legislators, especially those in the Senate.
Late last week legislative leaders officially announced they would return to the state Capitol in June to pass a budget and also reconsider other items including health care coverage. That decision went against Scott's own recommendation to focus on the budget only.
"Governor Scott is glad the Legislature issued a call for a special session and remains cautiously optimistic that we will have a budget that will help our economy grow and create more jobs," said Jackie Schutz, a spokeswoman for Scott.
Earlier this year legislators entered the session with a projected budget surplus of more than $1 billion. But the two chambers have been divided over the budget because a program that now provides more than $1 billion in federal aid to hospitals is to set to expire this summer although the state has asked for approval of an alternative program. Hospitals are predicting severe cutbacks if the money is lost.
The feds want Florida to expand Medicaid insurance as part of the agreement to extend the hospital funds, which it says is a more efficient use of federal funds than paying hospitals retroactively for caring for the uninsured.
But that push has drawn the ire of Scott. Scott has sued the federal government, alleging it is coercing him to expand Medicaid by withholding hospital funds. The budget stalemate has forced Scott to concede that he may not be able to win passage of any of his priorities this year, including a boost in school funding and tax cuts.
While some agencies listed dire warnings about a government shutdown, some they could go on for a little while without a new budget. The state's public universities told the Scott administration they have enough in reserves to pay employees anywhere from one to six months.
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