Fla. No-Fault Talks Continue; Issue Could be on Special Session Agenda

By | September 19, 2007

Florida lawmakers will have one eye on projections showing the state will face more tax shortfalls over the next three years when they meet in special session next month to cut the current budget, House Speaker Marco Rubio said.

Rubio and Gov. Charlie Crist also said they are encouraged by talks on restoring the state’s no-fault auto insurance system, which expires Oct. 1. That issue could be added to the special session if a consensus emerges.

Rubio, R-West Miami, and Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, have called a special session for Oct. 3-12 to chop $1.1 billion from the $71 billion budget. A shortfall of nearly $400 million in the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, already has reduced reserve funds in the current budget.

“All of the projections say that next year and even the year after could be equally difficult,” Rubio said. “We’re cognizant of the fact that six months from now we’re going to be working on another budget.”

If no cuts are made in the current budget, state economists have predicted the state would face a record $2.5 billion shortfall next year. Shortfalls of $846 million and $1 billion are forecast for the following two years.

Crist has proposed cutting just under $1 billion during the special session.

“Everyone in the Legislature is leaning toward going a little over that to be a little more prudent,” Rubio said.

There’s been no agreement, though, on a final figure yet, Rubio said.

Crist also has suggested lawmakers dip into trust funds and issue bonds to hasten the construction of schools, highways and other public works under the theory that would stimulate Florida’s economy and generate more tax revenue.

Rubio offered no opinion on that idea, saying it would be discussed at the committee level.

Pruitt and Rubio initially planned to call lawmakers back to Tallahassee in mid-September. They pushed the special session back because they were unable to agree on basic ground rules that still have not been finalized. Legislative leaders, though, are getting close and should have them ironed out in about a week, Rubio said.

The Senate advocated a 4 percent cut in each major budget segment such as education and health-human services while the House wanted to take a more targeted approach.

“I think there’s an understanding the cuts will probably be targeted at this point,” Rubio said.

Another unresolved issue is how much should be cut from each segment of the budget, but Rubio said he expects lawmakers to go lightly on public education.

Insurance companies have been lobbing against restoring no-fault because the system is rife with fraud that has resulted in excessive premiums. All motorists must buy personal injury protection, or PIP, which covers up to $10,000 in medical costs for accident victims regardless of who is at fault.

Hospitals though, want to revive no-fault. They contend that without it they will be stuck with millions of dollars in medical costs for uninsured accident victims.

Some lawmakers have been trying to find a way to restore no-fault with provisions to reduce fraud such as payment limits for various kinds of injuries.

“I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen lately,” Crist said. “I think that as we get closer I’m certainly willing to consider adding that to the call.”

Rubio said lawmakers cannot just extend no-fault without fixing it.

“I want us to solve it, and I think we’re close to that,” Rubio said.

Topics Legislation

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