Shift budget surplus from education to health care

In January, Governor Rick Scott released his plan to spend Florida’s billion dollar surplus. His budget proposal includes certain sales tax cuts, increased education spending per student and more funds for the Bright Futures scholarship. One thing that Scott wholly ignored was health care funding for hospitals.

Much of the funding for hospitals is coming from the federal government’s Low Income Pool (LIP) program, which is part of the Affordable Care Act. That funding is set to expire in June, however, meaning that Florida hospitals that serve low-income individuals will lose $1.3 billion this year.

This has sparked unusual conflict between the legislative chambers and the governor’s office, despite all three being controlled by Republicans. The House backs Scott’s proposed budget and retains his tax cuts and most of the education spending. The Senate, on the other hand, chose to be more cautious by allocating state funds to hospitals to make up for the lost federal LIP funding.

The House needs to skip its own plan and pass the Senate’s budget.

Scott’s plan is centered on the idea of spending a record-breaking $7,176 per student in the state. The House’s figure is slightly lower, but still record-breaking. What most people are ignoring is that the Senate’s plan still spends $7,123 per student. That $53 difference will likely not be a difference felt by Florida families.

The only reason the Senate’s figure isn’t to Scott’s liking is that it’s not technically breaking per-student spending records for the state, and Scott likes to tout his education agenda. He can make an appealing addition to his list of talking points by having this “record-breaking” figure under his belt.

This controversy is more about improving Scott’s public image than it is about genuinely improving the lives of Florida’s students.

The kind of spending that actually would impact Floridians’ lives is the health care spending included in the Senate budget. According to a March story published in the Associated Press, Florida has the most uninsured residents and is second only to Texas. More barriers to health care and millions of dollars in losses for hospitals will have a huge detrimental impact on Florida’s most vulnerable individuals.

How is Scott getting away with continually rejecting health care spending? Because there is no political capital lost if he elects not to help lower individual health care costs. Mounting evidence shows that Americans don’t realize the current slowdown of health care costs.

Though overall health care costs are growing at their slowest rates ever, the spiking costs of drugs leave Americans with the impression that costs are rising just as fast, if not faster, than usual, according to a March 31 article in the Wall Street Journal. If Scott doesn’t increase funding, health care costs will rise. However, because people believe costs are already rising in the status quo, Scott has no urgent political push to improve the situation.

The House should not buy into Rick Scott’s political pandering and realize that allocating money to hospitals will have so much more of a positive impact on individuals’ lives than an insignificantly higher spending per student and tax cuts for corporations.

The Senate’s plan is much better for the state of Florida.

Annie Cappetta is a freshman majoring in political science.