More Non-Budget Spending Issues
Medicaid Expansion / Implementation of Obamacare
When Gov. Scott decided to expand Medicaid in February 2013, Benacquisto expressed faith in Senator Negron’s committee that was investigating the state’s options under Obamacare. The Florida Senate Majority Office issued the following news release: Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto released the following statement regarding Governor Scott’s decision to support the expansion of Medicaid in Florida. . . .“I have the utmost faith in Chairman Negron as he and the committee continue to examine the potential outcomes of the healthcare law and look forward to their recommendations to the Senate.
(Targeted News Service, February 20, 2013)
While the House devised a plan that did not rely on Medicaid expansion, Negron’s committee created a Healthy Florida program that would offer low- cost subsidized coverage through private insurers. The plan would use Medicaid dollars to fund the subsidies and passed the Senate by a vote of 38-1 in April 2013 with Benacquisto voting in support. By a vote of 38 to 1, the Florida Senate approved a health plan for low-income residents that would rely on federal dollars, but its future in the state House is in doubt. The Healthy Florida Plan, sponsored by Sen. Joe Negron (Republican-Stuart), would utilize the $51 billion in federal dollars allocated for Medicaid expansion over the next 10 years and use them to help low- income Floridians purchase private health plans. Such a plan would require the approval of federal regulators fairly quickly in order to start by Jan. 1. . . .The legislation states that the Healthy Florida Plan would expire if the federal government fails to fund at least 90 percent of the program. However, the Healthy Florida Plan has received a cold reception from most Republicans in the state House and previous attempts to pass it have fallen well short. The House is considering a plan that would use $238 million in state dollars to fund health coverage through Florida Health Choices, which would contribute $2,000 annually to about 120,000 people making below poverty wages.
(South Florida Business Journal, April 30, 2013; Florida Senate, April 30, 2013, HB 7169, Overall vote: 38-1, Benacquisto vote: Yes)
Conservative critics slammed the Senate’s maneuver to replace the free- market House bill with a Senate bill that relies on Medicaid expansion, “as Obamacare prescribes.” On April 11, the GOP-controlled Florida House of Representatives passed an innovative, consumer-driven replacement for Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, one that could be a national template for free-market health reform. But Republicans in the state Senate rejected the House plan, electing instead to expand Medicaid, as Obamacare prescribes. Senate Republicans’ inexplicable decision makes it likely that free-market reform will fail in Florida, an outcome that could easily have been avoided. . . .The House, led by Speaker Will Weatherford and PPACA Committee Chairman Richard Corcoran, passed a bill in which uninsured adults with children would receive $2,000 a year—plus their own contribution of $300—to fund a health savings account called a CARE account, which recipients could use for any health expense of their choice. They could use it to buy catastrophic coverage, or a high-end concierge primary care physician, or anything in between. In order to benefit from the subsidy, recipients would have to meet work requirements similar to those in the landmark, bipartisan 1996 welfare-reform law. . . .Rick Scott, however, is having none of it. The House plan, said Scott, “will cost Florida taxpayers on top of what they are already taxed under the President’s new health care law [and] would be a double-hit to state taxpayers.” But Scott is factually incorrect. New state Medicaid spending, under Obamacare, would exceed $1.3 billion a year in 2022; the House proposal would cost $237 million a year. The Senate, however, voted down the House plan. Instead, the Senate passed a bill proposed by Sen. Joe Negron, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which would expand Medicaid using private insurers, a plan he calls “Healthy Florida.” Because the Senate bill enlists private insurers to manage the Medicaid program, Sen. Negron claimed that it doesn’t count as a Medicaid expansion. “We’re not putting one more citizen of Florida into the Medicaid program,” claims Negron. That will come as a surprise to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which issued in March a memorandum clearly stating that anyone who takes federal dollars to cover the population slated for the Medicaid expansion would be governed by the Medicaid statute. “Under all these [private insurance] arrangements,” wrote HHS, “beneficiaries remain Medicaid beneficiaries and continue to be entitled to all [Medicaid] benefits and cost- sharing protections.” . . .In other words, Negron’s bill expands Medicaid, as Obamacare prescribes, and does so under the jurisdiction of the federal Medicaid statute. Full stop, end of story.
(Forbes, May 1, 2013)
Even though Benacquisto pledges to repeal and replace Obamacare, her political foes can use her vote to expand Medicaid — a critical component of Obamacare — coupled with the letter from Lee Memorial Health System thanking her for supporting health care expansion to attack her for supporting Obamacare expansion. President, Lee Memorial Health System Thank you to all of you who took the time to contact our political leaders to urge them to expand health coverage for the hard-working, low-income, uninsured people of Florida. While the legislative session ended May 3 without a resolution, the issue is far from over. It can’t be over because too many people need help and the implications on health care and our state’s economy are too great. Gov. Rick Scott supports expansion. The Senate voted with overwhelming bipartisan support to move forward with Sen. Joe Negron’s plan, which draws down all of the federal funds available to allow uninsured residents – more than 1 million Floridians, of which tens of thousands are residents in Lee and Collier counties – to obtain private health insurance. Many of our political leaders listened to and understand the needs of their constituents. We appreciate Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto and Sen. Garrett Richter for supporting expansion through Sen. Negron’s “Healthy Florida” plan.
(Fort Myers Florida Weekly, May 22, 2013)
Removing a Cap on Public Entity Damages
Benacquisto introduced legislation in 2011 that would waive a state law protecting public entities against paying out massive jury awards from plaintiff suits. Benacquisto’s bill, which passed the Senate by a 29-3 vote, would allow a man who was struck and paralyzed by a Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy’s vehicle to collect $23 million of the $30.7 million jury award from the county’s insurance provider. A Florida Senate panel Tuesday gave the go-ahead to a bill to help a 31-year-old Sunrise man collect the millions of dollars that a jury said he was owed after a Broward sheriff’s deputy crashed into him 13 years ago. . . . Eric Brody, 31, was 18 when a Broward sheriff’s deputy slammed into his car, putting him in a coma for nine months and leaving him with a severe brain injury and unable to walk or speak coherently. A jury said that Brody should receive $30.7 million to pay for lifetime care and compensate him for pain and suffering. “When someone hit him at 18, they literally took his life away,” said Brody’s father, Chuck. But the family has never seen a penny of the jury award – and won’t, unless the Legislature says so. State law protects public entities such as the Sheriff’s Office against huge jury awards and caps payments at $200,000. For Brody to get the remainder, the Legislature would have to approve what’s called a claims bill. On Tuesday, the Senate Rules Committee approved a measure, SB 42, that would allow the Brody family to pursue a bad-faith suit against the sheriff’s insurance carrier for $23 million. . . .Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, sponsor of the legislation, called the scenario “tragic” and said it was time for the family to receive compensation.
(Sun- Sentinel, April 27, 2011; Florida Senate, May 5, 2011, SB 42, Overall vote: 29-3, Benacquisto vote: Yes)
While Benacquisto’s bill died in the House in 2011, she reintroduced it in 2012 and lowered the payout to $10.8 million. The bill passed the Senate and House by wide margins and Gov. Scott signed it into law. Nearly 14 years after a Broward County Sheriff’s deputy slammed his cruiser into a car driven by 18-year-old Eric Brody, permanently injuring him, the Florida Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that would provide a $10.8 million settlement to the Brody family. It was one of the first bills to pass the Senate during the 2012 Session, after Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne, made it a priority to provide the wheelchair-bound man’s family some financial relief this year. . . .A last minute amendment by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, reduced the amount of the proposed settlement from $15.6 million to $10.8 million, an amount that will likely be more palatable to lawmakers in the House. . . .The $10.75 million deal will be covered by the insurance company, shielding Broward County Sheriff’s Office, and by extension taxpayers, from bearing costs.
(The Miami Herald, January 10, 2012; Florida Senate, March 8, 2012, SB 4, Overall vote: 36-3, Benacquisto vote: Yes)
Given Benacquisto’s personal fight to overturn caps on public entity damages, it should come as little surprised that Florida trial lawyers presented Benacquisto with their Champions of Judicial Independence Award in 2011.
Caption: THE TRIAL LAWYERS SECTION held a Champions of Judicial Independence Award Reception in Tallahassee October 5 to recognize 24 legislators “who fought to maintain the independence of the judicial branch during the 2011 legislative session. . . .Also honored, but not pictured, were Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey; Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood; Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington;
(Florida Bar News, October 15, 2011)
Miscellaneous Examples of Benacquisto Waste
While Benacquisto has supported more notable wasteful projects like her slush fund and stimulus, she has voted in favor of other questionable spending projects. Such projects, while small in scale, are further examples of Benacquisto’s poor stewardship of taxpayer dollars.
Examples of Benacquisto Waste:
Sept. 13, 2002: Benacquisto voted in favor of a Wellington plan to ask for voter approval to build a $7-15 million village hall. Council members, though, never brought the measure before voters. Wellington residents, not the town council, will decide whether the village will build a new multimillion-dollar government building. Council members voted 4-1 this week to take the question to voters. A new city hall is estimated to cost $7 million-$15 million. . . .”If the citizens of this community choose to have a new, pretty $7 million city hall, well then that’s fine,” he said. “They choose to tax themselves for that level of service and to have that facility. I think they deserve to have that decision.” . . .The last time Wellington asked voters to approve spending for a building project was in 1994, before incorporation. The community’s then-government asked voters whether they would agree to finance a village park. They answered “no.” Councilwoman Linda Bolton was the only one who voted against the motion Tuesday night.
(Palm Beach Post, September 13, 2002)
Apr. 5, 2005: Council members vote unanimously to broadcast meetings on live TV, costing taxpayers $500,000 for the village to purchase television equipment. Volunteers appointed to village committees will have to learn to live with their television notoriety. Village council members voted 5-0 Tuesday to broadcast all committee meetings after a poll of committee members showed strong support for televising the meetings. The only exception would be sensitive matters, as determined by a board chairman and the village manager. Councilman Carmine Priore said the village has spent $300,000 buying equipment to televise the meetings and that many citizens are interested but can’t attend meetings.
(Palm Beach Post, April 6, 2005)
Sept. 28, 2005: Benacquisto approved an hourly raise for the Village’s contracted attorneys — costing taxpayers $225/hour. As of September 2005, the village paid nearly $1 million in legal fees. Approved a $10-an-hour increase in attorneys fees for Brinkley, McNerney, Morgan, Solomon & Tatum LLP. Village Attorney Jeff Kurtz and partners in his firm will now be paid $185 an hour. Associates at the firm and the assistant village attorney will receive $170 an hour, and all litigation work is expected cost taxpayers $225 an hour. As of August, Wellington paid $995,621 to attorneys.
(Palm Beach Post, September 28, 2005)
Oct. 12, 2005: Benacquisto supported a $35 million voter bond issue for the Village to purchase green space and build a village hall. The bond would have cost taxpayers an additional $150/year in property taxes. A survey of 300 Wellington voters found little support for two proposed bond referendums that would raise up to $20 million to preserve green space in the village and $15 million to build a village hall. Still, the Village Council wanted to move forward with the bond issue to buy open space, called the Go Green Project, and put it on the March 2006 ballot. “If we wait one year, there might not be any land left,” Vice Mayor Lizbeth Benacquisto said. “I want us to keep that in mind. We see the transactions going on now, the land that’s changing hands. People are making plans. They’re not waiting on us. I would rather move forward as quickly as possible on that one.”. . . .A $15 million bond issue for a village hall would cost a resident with a $300,000 home $70 a year until the debt is paid. The same homeowner would pay $80 a year for a $20 million bond issue for green space.
(Sun-Sentinel, October 12, 2005)
Dec. 11, 2005: Benacquisto “took center stage” in doling out $217,000 as part of the village’s “school enrichment program” — a program in which the village gives $5 for each student attending public schools in Wellington. Friendly exchange … Village Council members happily passed out checks recently to school principals, especially good timing for three of the members who are up for re-election. They doled out about $67,000 as part of the village’s student enrichment program. Every year, the village gives $5 for each student attending public schools in Wellington. The money helps pay for school supplies. And elementary school principals received checks totaling $150,000 as part of the village’s reading challenge grants. The money helps pay for reading coaches and programs. It was a practical love fest as principals happily took their checks and council members happily gave the money away. . . .Vice Mayor Lizbeth Benacquisto heaped praise on the educators. “It’s a great expenditure to enrich the lives of our children,” she said. Posing for pictures later, Wenham and Benacquisto took center stage, each kneeling on one knee in front of the large group and the big checks.
(Sun-Sentinel, December 11, 2005)
May 26, 2006: Benacquisto spearheaded a wetlands creation effort — complete with walking trails, horse trails and wildlife habitats — costing taxpayers at least $13 million. Village officials are trying to duplicate the success of the Wakodahatchee Wetlands and the Green Cay Wetlands west of Delray Beach by creating a wetlands park on the western edge of the village. They envision walking trails, wildlife habitats, horse trails and an environmental education center over more than a sprawling 360 acres. “We’re looking to make ours the best in the county,” said Councilwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto, who is spearheading efforts to create the wetlands. “We want an energetic, vibrant and great learning environment for folks.” The project is part of the village and South Florida Water Management District’s efforts to clean up the Everglades. . . .The village is rerouting its dirty stormwater runoff from the southern half of the village, so it can be treated at the massive stormwater treatment area the district is building on the western edge of the village. . . .The district’s budget for the retention area is $13 million, and the project is slated to be completed late next year. But village officials want to add more bells and whistles to the project, such as boardwalks and an education center. Funding for that will have to come from elsewhere. . . .So the education center may be built on seven acres west of the retention area, Benacquisto said. The village is searching for funds and partnerships to pay for and run the
center. . . .The village also is converting a 20-acre reuse percolation pond near its wastewater treatment facility on Pierson Road into a wetlands park. The $1 million park will be a diverse habitat for marsh, hardwood swamp, tropical hardwood hammock and pine flatwoods.
(Sun-Sentinel, May 26, 2006)
April 6, 2011: Benacquisto opposed eliminating Florida school board member salaries — a move that would save the state $10 million/year. Eliminating school board members’ salaries would save Florida about $10 million and put the state in line with most of the nation, said Sen. Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville. Wise, chairman of the Senate education panel, today outlined his plan to cut school board salaries and replace them with $100 per-meeting stipends. . . .Both Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, and Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, said they had concerns about the proposed bill.
(Sun-Sentinel, April 6, 2011)
May 2013: Benacquisto supported over $80 million in local and state taxpayer dollars to successfully lure rental-car giant Hertz to southwest Florida. Politicians and dignitaries called the deal to bring Hertz to Lee County a golden opportunity at the formal unveiling this week, but key players said Wednesday it can live up to the hype only if more work is pledged to the region’s economic development. . . .The agreement to bring the Fortune 500 company here pledges $4.6 million in county money, $12 million in state funding, plus $68 million in tax credits over 20 years. Hertz has an option to buy 34 acres in Estero at the southeast corner of U.S. 41 and Williams Road. The company will lease an office building in Lee or Collier County while the headquarters are built. The company eventually expects to bring 700 jobs here. . . .Gov. Rick Scott appeared on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” Wednesday to tout the deal, only to take good-natured jabs from host Joe Kernen about “poaching” jobs from New Jersey, the home of Hertz and the broadcast studio. Hertz’s headquarters are in Park Ridge. . . .Florida Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto said the Hertz deal means Lee County, Southwest Florida and Florida will all be on more shortlists for projects. “I think what the Hertz deal did more than anything else was raise awareness of how special the community is,” Benacquisto said.
(The News-Press, May 9, 2013)