More MS news articles for May 2002

Budget talks could squeeze prescription help, education

Thursday, May 09, 2002
Staff Writer

TALLAHASSEE -- The budget deal-making going on in Tallahassee this week holds special interest for Montye Conlan.

The Ormond-by-the-Sea resident relies on a state program called Medically Needy to pay the cost of her drugs to treat multiple sclerosis -- more than $1,000 per month.

But changes proposed in the program would force her to pay up to $288 per month out of her own pocket, a sum that would dip so far into her fixed disability income she would have to make a heart-wrenching decision.

"The only way to pay is to not pay my mortgage," Conlan said Wednesday. "It's either lose my house or lose Medically Needy."

The program is among about 30 issues in the proposed $49.7 billion budget negotiated by Senate and House leaders Wednesday for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

State Rep. Carlos Lacasa, R-Miami, and Sen. Lisa Carlton, R-Osprey, the two leaders of appropriations committees, spent the day in secret negotiations trying to work out a deal. Whatever issues they cannot agree on will be decided by the House speaker and Senate president.

Lawmakers hope to have everything done by today so they can print the budget and have it on their desks by noon Friday, leaving the required 72 hours before a final vote on Monday, scheduled to be the special session's last day.

Bethune-Cookman College fell victim to the negotiating process after House leaders could not convince senators to go along with extra money for historically black private colleges.

"The hard stance by the Senate means the college will get $1 million less than some House members wanted. The compromise amount is $2.85 million for recruitment and retention at B-CC.

Rep. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, said she was working hard to increase money given to B-CC, which is in her district, and the other two private historically black colleges in Florida. But the deal fell through when senators objected to the distribution of the extra money since it was not exactly the same to all three schools.

"I'm very disappointed," said Lynn, the House Appropriations Committee chairwoman. "My goal has always been to get as much money as possible for all those colleges. Here we had a chance to get more money for all of them, but they said no.' "

Changes agreed upon to the Medically Needy program would make it easier for people to qualify but end the practice of counting medical bills paid by Medicaid toward a person's deductible. That means patients such as Conlan have to come up with cash for the first time.

The Senate and House were negotiating how much to put into the program, so it is unclear how much Medically Needy recipients will be required to pay out of pocket.

Early Wednesday, negotiators agreed on tuition increases for state universities -- 5 percent for in-state undergraduate students and 10 percent for out-of-state and graduate students. Each university's governing board has the option of tacking on another 10 percent for the out-of-state students, including graduate students, but only another 5 percent for in-state graduate students.

Two of the remaining sticking points have local implications, including a local grant program for road projects: The House wants to give the money to projects already qualified for the state Transportation Outreach Program -- including $7.8 million for 12 projects in Volusia and Flagler. Senate leaders want to put the money back into the Department of Transportation budget because they say the money isn't evenly distributed statewide.

Also in the mix of negotiations is a new grant program that would give money for Florida residents to attend for-profit private colleges. Senators don't like the program because it takes money that would otherwise be spent for need-based scholarships.

© 2002 News-Journal Corporation, (SM)