Tackling Florida’s Fiscal Storm: LeRoy Collins Institute on Medicaid, the “800 pound gorilla”



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The LeRoy Collins Institute expects a coming increase in Medicaid enrollment and calls it the “800 pound gorilla” as we make tough fiscal choices. From the recently updated report “Tough Choices: Shaping Florida’s Future

Medicaid currently accounts for more than 25% of Florida’s budget, insuring a quarter of Florida’s children and funding 63% of the state’s nursing home care. As we noted in Tough Choices: Update 2008, cuts in Medicaid spending not only leave many residents of Florida with costly, uncovered medical expenses but they also leave available matching federal money on the table. Health care research shows that when providers are financially strapped, quality of care for serious conditions gets worse.

In our original Tough Choices recommendations in 2005 we urged a careful assessment of Medicaid as a prerequisite for both making cuts and improving the effectiveness of the massive safety-net program. Instead, the state has continued to cut services here and there without a careful assessment of their impacts and without a full understanding of the intricacies and myriad components of the Medicaid system. We continue to urge a careful assessment of Medicaid, including prioritization of services and recipients, prior to additional incremental reductions.



Perhaps, today, we might all be Northern Irish…



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Like him or not, it’s worth watching Chris Matthews’ commentary on Ireland tonight.

“The headlines [of the killings] from Northern Ireland were just like the bad old days. The story we’re getting is far different… So, you see, a lot has changed because of the Good Friday agreement in 1998. Northern Ireland has a shared government of Loyalist and Republican, Protestant and Catholic. The Northern Ireland police force is increasingly integrated – Catholic as well as Protestant. And the people of Northern Ireland are united in wanting peace and no return to the days and nights of locked doors and killing in the night. No return.

If you want progress in the north, there are real ways to go about it. Tell every relative you’ve got over there that we are united in wanting peace, better yet that you respect any effort to bring reconciliation between the two sides. Right now 95% of the kids from Northern Ireland go to separate schools. Almost two thirds have never had a conversation across the religious line, Catholic and Protestant. But those who do go to school together are inclined to describe themselves not as British or Irish but Northern Irish, a term that unites rather than divides, that breeds hope, for a future Ireland where the whole Isle can live in peace and – yes – for all practical purposes, in unity… without the watch towers and the constantina wire, the check points, the 40 foot high walls that still separate Catholic from Protestant…

I just hope and pray that this peace holds and grows to something better, especially in these very tough economic times. I have my heart in this fight, obviously. My grandmom and grandpa Shields were Irish Catholic to the core… My dad’s mom was a Presbyterian with a brogue to match Mrs. Doubtfire. As a grandson to both, my brothers and I know from birth that peace is possible, even love.



Like how quickly the world owes him something he knew existed like ten seconds ago



“We live in an amazing, amazing world, and it’s wasted on the crappiest generation of spoiled idiots.”

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Tackling Florida’s Fiscal Storm: Invest in educating a well-paid workforce



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“I think we need to bring education funding back up. If we’re going to be competitive economically, we have to have a world class education system. We had a very conservative governor who thought education was important and thought that a 72 billion dollar education budget was necessary for this state. Now we’ve cut down to the low 60’s. We’ve cut too low and we must bring it back.” –State Senator Thad Altman (R- Melbourne)

On seeking a higher education: “Because if you think in your own families, your own lives, who was the first person in your family, the very first, who decided they would seek higher education? Maybe it was you, maybe it will be your children, maybe it was your father or your grandfather or mother or grandmother. But the moment that Rubicon was crossed, the moment that someone in your family decided they were going to advance themselves to a different level, your entire family changed, forever. And guess what? So did your community, when it happens in multiples and so did your city.and so did your county and your state and your nation.” –State Senator Dan Gelber (D- Miami Beach)



Tackling Florida’s Fiscal Storm: Save Our Homes is still broken



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Did you miss Florida’s Fiscal Storm? Find a video online at Florida TaxWatch

“It’s bad for new home construction, it’s bad for first time home buyers, it’s bad for seniors if they want to step down into a retirement home. It’s bad, it’s grossly unfair, it’s un-American and we must fix it. I know there are many schools of thought. I happen to feel that we’re not a high tax state. Our country, from the time of the Boston Tea Party, has been founded on fairness in our tax system. And we’ve gotten away from that.” –State Senator Thad Altman (R- Melbourne)

“You’ve got to get people back into government. TaxWatch points out that one thing Save Our Homes has done is take people out of local government so they don’t care. If people don’t care about what they’re spending through their elected officials, is it the job of 160 legislators, all but two of which don’t come from that community.” –State Senator Dan Gelber (D- Miami Beach)



When America is in trouble, you invest in it



On the reopening of trading on Wall Street after 9/11:

“They lifted the New York Stock Exchange covered with ash-the monitors on the floor literally thick with ash, the trading floor badly damaged-and one week later, seven days, they were lined up ready to roar and ringing the bell. That day, for the first and only time in my life, I bought a stock-five thousand dollars worth, of J&J-and as I bought it on the Internet, I called my son over to watch me hit “Enter” so he would understand for the rest of his life that when America is in trouble you invest in it, you put what you’ve got right there.”

–Peggy Noonan in Patriotic Grace: What It Is and Why We Need It Now



A great Florida story



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The Sunshine State was semi-featured in one of the more touching moments from President Obama’s speech tonight:

I think of Leonard Abess, a bank president from Miami who reportedly cashed out of his company, took a 60 million dollar bonus and gave it out to all 399 people who worked for him plus another 72 who used to work for him.

He didn’t tell anyone.

When the local newspaper found out, he simply said “I’ve known some of these people since I was seven years old. It didn’t feel right getting the money myself.”

HERE is that story, folks.



Tackling Florida’s Fiscal Storm: Take a second look at the Superhomestead Amendment



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“The superhomestead was a good fix – it was structural, it was sound, but we didn’t go that easy route.” –Dominic Calabro, President and CEO FloridaTaxWatch

“There were some efforts 2 years ago in session is to try to address [the property tax problem]. And one way we tried to skin that cat – and I think it was a valid one – is what we called the super homestead exemption where we would give a much larger exemption to homeowners on a percentage basis, but we would have to go to a constitutional amendment to make that happen. The trade off was we would have to give up Save Our Homes. [The Superhomestead amendment] was thrown off of the ballot on a technicality, we could have fixed the technicality, but many thought it would fail because of the polling. I think that what we need to do is we need to do the right thing, we need have the best possible fix to our property tax problem and then go to the people, and not have the polls decide what direction we’re going to go. I think that was a big mistake. I have a lot of trust in the wisdom of the Florida voter. I think if we come up with a good plan and get the word out .” –State Senator Thad Altman (R- Melbourne)



Tackling Florida’s Fiscal Storm: The problem we have is big



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What we’re facing here is running the ship of state through rough waters of a seismic economic and fiscal storm. It’s not just a cyclical thing… [it] isn’t merely just a matter of do we have enough revenue, are we spending too much or too little? Those are the superficial challenges we’re facing. We’re facing tectonic challenges in our plates, the undergirding of the basic fabric of our economy and some would say our political system. So we’re kind of guiding this in a far different set of circumstances, many of which are far beyond our control. –Dominic Calabro, President and CEO FloridaTaxWatch



Parker Palmer on holding tensions



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From yesterday’s Bill Moyers Journal, Parker Palmer, founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal.

We want instant resolution. You give us a tension. We want it to get it over with in 15 minutes. We do it in everything from microcosmic situations to what happened in this country after September 11th, which is one of the great tragedies of our time, not only September 11th but our national response to it. We had an opportunity in the weeks following September 11th to really connect in new ways with the rest of the world, who were showing toward us compassion, which means suffering with.

They were saying today I, too, am an American, despite the fact that they knew more of this kind of suffering than we did. And we had caused some of theirs. Around the world people were saying, “Today I am an American.”

Well, if we had held the tension between that attack, that horrific criminal attack, and this possibility of connecting and deepening compassion, held it not through inaction but through what Bill Coffin called the justice strategy rather than the warfare strategy. If we had done that I think we would have opened a new possibility in American life. But we couldn’t. The 15 minutes elapsed and we had to hit back.



Tackling Florida’s Fiscal Storm: Don’t use the stimulus as a Band-Aid



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“The bottom line is that Florida has to take this time to make comprehensive changes, not Band-Aids and not the federal stimulus, which is going… to have a lot of strings. It’s not going to be free money from heaven.” –Dr. Carol Weissert, Director FSU’s LeRoy Collins Institute

“I think it’s critical that we don’t allow the stimulus package to become a means of avoiding the problem that we have in this state… We need to address our revenue problems and if we do that we can make that stimulus package more beneficial and actually make it a true stimulus package, and not one that’s going to serve as a Band-Aid to fix our revenue shortfalls. The money is necessary, but I’m not going to let that get my eye off the ball in fixing our revenue problems.” –State Senator Thad Altman (R- Melbourne)

“You have to be very careful not to use economic stimulus money to balance the budget as it’s not going to be there in a couple years. It’s good for an emergency, but you have to be very careful that you don’t add back things you’ve cut or start new programs you can’t sustain in the future.” — Kurt Wenner, Florida TaxWatch

“I’m concerned that we may be overstating what we’ll get. There are a lot of matching [funds], hold harmless, and some states aren’t going to use some of the money because they’re afraid they’ll have something they will need to keep funding. I study federalism, and giving money to the states without strings is very rare. My guess is we’ll get some of that but we’re going to see a lot of strings.” –Dr. Carol Weissert, Director FSU’s LeRoy Collins Institute



Tackling “Florida’s Fiscal Storm”: Think long term



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Over the next few days, we’ll be pulling some themes out of last night’s excellent discussion “Florida’s Fiscal Storm” for those of you who couldn’t make it. A first point of agreement across the aisle is that we need to resist the temptation to pick a quick fix…

“While I think we have to worry about tomorrow, I think literally the legislature is worried about Wednesday. And there is more to tomorrow than just Wednesday. There is a lot more that we need to be thinking about. One gripe with the Florida legislature and with policy in Florida is that nobody has really taken the long view of Florida and of where our state is.” –State Senator Dan Gelber (D- Miami Beach)

“Legislators by nature don’t think long-term. They’re looking at the next election. Term-limited legislatures particularly have trouble looking long-term. Long-term issues have to be looked at by us. That is you.” –Dr. Carol Weissert, Director FSU’s LeRoy Collins Institute

“I hope that the revenue shortfalls that we’re facing right now can be a catalyst to have Florida not only take a look at our tax problems but also to take action to fix them permanently.” –State Senator Thad Altman (R- Melbourne)

“A crisis is a terrible thing to waste…it’s a great opportunity to realign and bring some common sense to how we spend money.” –Dominic Calabro, President and CEO FloridaTaxWatch



With malice toward none



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“The legitimate object of government is to do for the people what needs to be done but which they cannot by individual effort do it all or do so well by themselves.” — Abraham Lincoln

“You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.” –Abraham Lincoln

I cannot let this year’s President’s Day end, this 200th year after the birth of Abraham Lincoln, without a note on the strain of ideologies we’re experiencing in America today. During this past week, I heard the first of these Lincoln quotes repeated by President Obama, I saw the second on a bumper sticker on a car.

Both, most of us would agree, are true at some level. But the rub is that these two true statements, made by the same man, can conflict as well. If you push a little too forcefully on one premise, you can violate the other.

Here’s our premise: It’s the holding of both simultaneously, amidst the discomfort that inevitably creates, that is the greatness of this country. Sometimes that means one group of people push one side and a second group pushes another – and then the marketplace of great American ideas comes from all that pushing.

Although this dissension surely has its place in a healthy democracy, I’d argue we’re off course because too many of us fall in a “camp” and too few of us are willing to struggle with the conflicting ideas. Human nature wants to vilify and simplify. We want easy.

And I’d argue that real statesmanship in our leaders comes from the ability to hold dissonant ideas in tension.

Lincoln did that.

When we start hating, really hating, the other side of the argument in the great ongoing American argument, we kill the balance, we kill the tension that has to exist.

We’ve been doing a lot of hating lately.

With malice toward none…”

May the “work we are in,” sustain America another 200 years.