by Derek Joy
Special to the NNPA from The Miami Times
Black State Legislators were among the hardest hit by Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s $461 million cuts from the state budget, which pased at $78 billion.
The 19-day, Special Legislative Session – June 1 to June 19 – ended with bad news for Democrats in general, South Florida and Blacks in particular. This session was called after the Legislature failed to pass a budget during its 60-day regular session.
Black Democrats said their legislation suffered veto after veto, mostly because they supported Medicaid expansion.
Democratic State Rep. Cynthia Stafford, said Scott’s draconian budget cuts was out of control.
“It’s a sad state of affairs,” said Stafford, who represents district 109. “I was very disappointed in the vetoes. My gosh, I would’ve thought he would have shown some balance, especially towards Black communities. That’s where the most need is. I had items in the budget vetoed because I supported Medicaid expansion.”
Scott’s surgeon-like cuts gave rise to questions of whether the vetoes amount to racial and economic discrimination.
“He vetoed what senators put in the budget because of Medicaid expansion. Republican and Democrats in the Senate saw their projects vetoed,” said Sen. Oscar Braynon, who represents District 36. “The vetoes hit South Florida the harder than anywhere else in the state.”
Braynon said he’s not sure the vetoes were “necessarily discrimination,” because South Florida Republican Senators Rene Garcia and Miguel De la Portilla and Rep. Anitere Flores had projects vetoed.
Braynon managed to get $100,000 funding for a water and sewer project in Biscayne Park, but similar projects in the other cities within his District were cut from the budget, as was the $1.5 million for the Opa-locka Cultural Arts Center.
Rep. Sharon Pritchett, a Democrat who represents District 102, was moderate in a succinct assessment.
“We got some things for the Broward portion of the District,” said Pritchett, without being specific. “Republicans got everything they wanted.”
Sen. Dwight Bullard (Dem., District 39) saw his District suffer wholesale cuts from the budget. Among the cut budget items submitted by Bullard were $100,000 for a kitchen incubator to help jumpstart catering businesses; $100,000 for a job incubator; $100,000 for a workforce program; a program for the elderly and several other programs.
Bullard, like Braynon, Pritchett, Stafford and other Black state legislators, suffered cuts to projects designed to help the poor, minority, disadvantaged and minorities.
However, Bullard managed to win approval of $800,000 funding for the Florida Children’s Initiative in a three city — Jacksonville, Orlando and Miami. There was also some funding for Jackson Memorial Hospital and Broward hospitals in Braynon’s District 36 under the Low-Income Pool (LIP) and property tax relief that allows homeowners to argue their tax bills.
“Medicaid expansion was the big thing. When the Governor said he won’t support Medicaid expansion, that was a slap in the face of Blacks and poor. It definitely impacts Blacks and poor,” said Bullard.
Republicans argued they decided against Medicaid because of the lawsuit filed by Scott and others who sought to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But that argument wasn’t waged by all Republicans, as their Senate majority passed a Medicaid Expansion Bill that was killed in the State House. Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the ACA was constitutional.
“I am thrilled that the U. S. Supreme Court made the right decision in the King v. Burwell case,” wrote Congresswoman Frederica Wilson in a prepared statement. “There are 1,324,516 individuals and families that could have lost their subsidies, worth $389 million and faced a 359 percent increase in their cost of premiums.
“My District has the third highest number of people in the nation who benefit from the subsidy. It is a relief that those constituents, mostly immigrants, can now rest assured their health care needs can be met.”
That Supreme Court ruling puts Scott and the Republican majority in the State Legislature on the hook for at least $400,000 for funding when they passed on the $51 billion in federal funding had Medicaid expansion been implemented.