State Capitol Briefs
Around the State
No Hard Plans Yet for Special Session
Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos said Senate and House leaders are continuing to talk about a potential special session to deal with the economic impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but declined to commit to any plans.
“Our goal is to get it sooner than later, but the more important goal is to get it right,” Haridopolos said. “And our hope is we've talked about a September special session. Again we will bring it together if we have a conclusion.” House work groups held brief meetings by phone last week and the Senate Select Committee on the Economy met last month in Pensacola to discuss economic issues related to the spill.
AHCA's Arnold to Step Down
Tom Arnold is retiring as head of the Agency for Health Care Administration, the governor’s office announced. The veteran health-care administrator is leaving the agency Aug. 31, three months after winning approval of state lawmakers to become AHCA's secretary. Known for his straightforward and dispassionate knowledge of the state's health care system, especially Medicaid, Arnold's announcement Friday was met with regret by Gov. Charlie Crist.
"Tom has been a tireless advocate on behalf of quality and affordable health care for Floridians for more than 30 years," Crist said in a statement. "With a strong record of battling and preventing Medicaid fraud, Tom has worked to ensure quality medical services to Floridians facing financial need."
Crist immediately appointed Elizabeth Dudek to succeed Arnold as an interim director at AHCA, which oversees Florida's $18 billion Medicaid program that serves 2.7 million Floridians. Dudek has served as the agency's deputy secretary for health quality assurance since 2001.
State Economist: Budget Likely to Close to $6B
State economists will have a much better fix on things in September, but one of the state's top analysts said the upcoming budget deficit is more likely to remain below $6 billion as opposed to an upper-end estimate cited by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum on the campaign trail earlier this week. Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislative Office of Economic and Demographic Research, said Friday that preliminary data tend to support previous estimates of a $6 billion shortfall. McCollum, during a debate Thursday evening with Republican rival Rick Scott, said the budget gap could rise to as high as $8 billion.
Baker said McCollum was likely relying on earlier legislative budget documents that laid out several scenarios, including an immediate infusion of cash into the Florida Retirement System, and fully funding the state's critical concerns and other high-priority items that could be put off if need be. Those figures approached $8 billion. Revenue estimators are expected to meet in September to re-tweak the state's economic forecast.
States File Brief in Obama Health-Care Lawsuit
The fight over federal health-care reform continued Friday as states challenging the measure filed more paperwork in the case pitting 20 states against the Obama administration over mandatory health coverage approved by Congress earlier this year. Speaking to reporters Friday, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum said he hopes for some type of ruling by the end of the year, but said appeals could wind their way through the courts for some time. Friday's action dealt with a federal motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed on behalf of states. The states argue that the federal reform package violates state's rights and amounts would require states to pay dramatically more for Medicaid, which is expanded under the new law.
AG Race Still Wide Open
Candidates for Florida attorney general are putting ads up on television, debating each other and trading barbs over who is the most qualified to be the state's top lawyer. But it's anyone's guess as to who will actually come out on top in the contest, according to a recent poll from the Washington D.C.-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Research.
The poll found most voters are undecided in the Democratic primary between state Sens. Dan Gelber and Dave Aronberg, and in the Republican contest between former Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Holly Benson, former Hillsborough County prosecutor Pam Bondi and Lieutenant Gov. Jeff Kottkamp. The poll, taken between Aug. 2 and Aug. 4, surveyed 625 likely Democratic voters and 626 likely Republican voters.
In the Democratic primary, 56 percent of those surveyed were undecided and in the GOP primary, 54 percent remain undecided. In the poll, Gelber edges Aronberg 23 to 21 percent, with a margin of error of 4 percent. And Bondi and Kottkamp are in a dead heat at 17 to 16 percent with Benson coming in at 13 percent, also with a margin of error of 4 percent.