The Florida Senate Budget Committee spent Friday wrapping up work on its plan to cut spending by nearly $4 billion. Faced with a massive shortfall in revenues, republican leaders have ruled out the prospect of raising taxes, leading to some difficult and emotional decisions.
All through the recession, state lawmakers have been careful to avoid cutting programs directly affecting Florida’s most vulnerable, but now republicans say there's no other way to overcome a record deficit.
The Senate Budget Committee voted to gut Florida's medically-needy program. It takes care of medical expenses, primarily for people who are transplant survivors and have a difficult time paying for their medications.
If the cut passes the full legislature, that drug benefit will be eliminated come April of next year.
Democrats on the committee condemn the vote as a dereliction of duty.
“I just think it's not good enough for us, as a Legislature, as a state, to leave here and pass legislation that would really sentence people to death,” said Sen. Nan Rich, D-Minority Leader.
Ultimately two republicans, Mike Fasano and Thad Altman, joined with democrats in voting 'no', but it wasn't enough to overcome the argument that money to save the program just isn't there.
“Let's debate it and talk about it, but let's don't just simply say, 'we're sentencing people to death',” said Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine. “I take great exception to that.”
Cutting the medically-needy program is only the latest drastic action the panel's taken. They've also voted to overhaul Florida’s pension program and even to cut Gov. Scott's security detail.
Legislative leaders say they're about a week ahead of schedule on budget negotiations. They could finish in time to submit the final product to Gov. Scott early, allowing lawmakers the option of overriding any vetoes.