State Rep. Mark Pafford (D-District 86) foresees mixed blessings for the 2013 legislative session, with increased anticipated revenue offset by a possible loss of $1.6 billion if state employees win a lawsuit to restore lost benefits.
Increased revenue will come because of the continued economic recovery. “That should help at least maintain a lot of what the state is doing in terms of things that we do for the public and keeping a lot of the agencies intact,” Pafford said.
On the downside, the state faces a possible hit from the state employee lawsuit. Pafford explained that the state changed its policy two years ago to require that employees pay a 3 percent pension contribution out of their own salary. It has been challenged in court, with employees alleging that it constituted a tax.
A number of large issues will have to be considered in Tallahassee this year, Pafford said, with the biggest being the implementation of healthcare reform in Florida.
“The state has not done anything in terms of implementation, largely because the governor and attorney general believed it would be found by the U.S. Supreme Court to be unconstitutional,” he said. “So now the state is trying to backtrack and do what it should have been doing, I would argue, for the last year and a half.”
Pafford said that he expects that the federal government will create the insurance exchanges necessary to administer the law. “It would appear that we lost the opportunity to do it ourselves,” he said. “We could have done it any way that we wanted, but nobody ever discussed it, and the timeline for us to do it ourselves is pretty much over.”
The Florida Legislature also has not acted on Medicaid expansion, another part of the Affordable Care Act package. “Two years ago, the state decided to turn its Medicaid service over to private managed care, which means people are doing it for a profit, as opposed to our historical network, which was nonprofits, some government agencies, some private,” Pafford said.
He said the federal government has been looking at Florida’s plan and that state officials hope the feds will approve it. The Affordable Care Act provides financing for Medicaid through 2020, at almost no cost to the states, while dramatically increasing eligibility to Florida’s poorest people, Pafford said. “Keep in mind that 50 percent of these people getting Medicaid are kids under the age of 18,” he said.
Pafford anticipates yet more corporate tax breaks in the coming year. “Florida has the fifth-best corporate tax system in the United States, as opposed to the bottom of the list, which we’re generally on for things like education or healthcare or mental health,” he said. “The governor wants to continue that trend and move us even higher, but the cost of moving in that direction means less revenue when it comes to things like education.”
Pafford said he anticipates the state will stay on its current course of shortchanging public education.
“What you will see is a continued trend of moving those tax dollars out to charter schools and to corporate vouchers, which basically undercut public spending on public education,” he said. “People need to be very clear that when the governor says ‘education,’ he’s not talking necessarily public education.”
Pafford does not foresee any movement toward gun control in Florida, pointing out that last year the legislature reduced the fee for obtaining a concealed weapons permit by $5. “The year before that, we permitted the ability to carry firearms into local government buildings,” he said. “I don’t think there’s going to be any type of legislation that begins to look at regulating the type of weapons people have.”
While the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School might spur gun discussion in Florida, Pafford does not expect any tightening of regulations. “The system is geared toward policies that are friendly to the gun lobby in Tallahassee,” he said.
Another component of the firearm issue is the lack of financing for mental healthcare, Pafford said. “In terms of red flags, Florida has a very friendly gun policy,” he said. “People can generally own what they want, and we also have a mental-health ranking in the United States of 49th behind Texas and Idaho. If there is something positive, we could look at better funding for mental health.”
Financing for Everglades restoration will be a major issue. “Funding the restoration of the Everglades should be mandatory this year,” Pafford said. “Most of the court cases have ended in terms of nutrients in the water, also in terms of Everglades restoration.”
He wants the state to create a recurring revenue source so that it can partner with the federal government on Everglades restoration.
Pafford said he has not filed any bills yet but that he’s developing several, one being to require people who provide summer camps to obtain a license from the state and conduct background checks on employees. “Right now, that doesn’t occur,” he said, adding that summer camps are largely unregulated.
He is also looking at restoring an urban infill and redevelopment grant program that was created 10 years ago and financed only once.
“It was only $2 million, but it created a ton of jobs, and it helped West Palm Beach specifically as well as a number of cities throughout the state create community centers, build houses and in some cases helped with law enforcement activities,” Pafford said. “They got rid of it last year, and I was the only member who really spoke for it because it’s a great program… Why not provide incentives to developers to go in and improve those areas?”
He is also working on a bill that would make it easier for felons who have done their time to find employment helping others who were in similar circumstances that they had been in, such as the homeless population.
“Let’s say you went to jail for a robbery 20 years ago,” Pafford said. “Because state law is written the way that it is, you are not permitted to find employment in an agency that deals with helping people in a similar situation that you were in 20 years ago. Those are the people who are in the best position to connect with homeless folks or people who are in those difficult situations.”
ABOVE: State Rep. Mark Pafford.