Counties Challenge Florida Money Grab

     TALLAHASSEE (CN) – Forty-seven counties say in court that Florida uses an “error-ridden scheme” to cheat them of local taxpayers’ Medicaid money.
     Alachua County and 46 more of the state’s 67 counties and the Florida Association of Counties) sued Secretary of State Elizabeth Dudek, the Agency for Health Care Administration and Florida Department of Revenue Executive Director Lisa Vickers, in Leon County Court.
     According to the complaint: “In 1990, Florida voters amended their state constitution by adding article VII, section 18 (the Unfunded Mandates Provision). This new constitutional protection limits the ability of the Legislature of the State of Florida to impose unfunded mandates on counties. This constitutional limit was designed not to hamstring the state Legislature but to require thoughtful and deliberate action, as well as overwhelming support, before the state can require counties to pay for a state mandate. Such mandates threaten to increase taxes and to remove local dollars from communities; therefore, the Unfunded Mandates Provision requires approval by a super-majority vote in each house of the Legislature. At its core, article VII, section 18, ensures that, absent extraordinary action by the Legislature, local taxpayer dollars will be used to pay for local, not statewide, desires and needs.”
     But this year the Legislature enacted a law called Section 12, which violates the Unfunded Mandates Provision, the counties say.
     “Without the constitutionally required super-majority vote, the Legislature created new methods and mandates for billing the state’s old and stale Medicaid costs to counties by automatically withholding the counties’ share of certain state tax revenues before distribution. In doing so, Section 12 shifts the burden of a fundamentally flawed billing scheme to local taxpayers. Through this error-ridden scheme, the state is coercing counties into paying for lawfully time-barred back bills, as well as new Medicaid obligations, that cannot rightfully be traced to their communities. This attempt is a prime example of requiring use of local tax dollars for statewide interests and desires. Under Section 12, counties will be impacted by this new billing scheme beginning May 7, 2012. Starting then, the state will begin withholding tax revenue shares from the counties to pay for bills that should be paid by others.”
     The counties are not challenging their need to contribute to the state Medicaid program.
     “Rather, counties want to pay their fair and accurate share of the Medicaid bills on behalf of their residents, which they have been prevented from doing because the sate billing system is plagued with rampant errors. Counties do not want their tax revenue share automatically raided to pay bills under the new scheme enacted by Section 12. The counties ask this court to enforce their state constitution and to require the Legislature to play by the rules before attempting to reduce the amount of tax revenues returned to the people.”
     Suing are Alachua County, Bay County, Bradford County, Broward County, Charlotte County, Clay County, Collier County, DeSoto County, Dixie County, Escambia County, Flagler County, Franklin County, Gulf County, Hamilton County, Hardee County, Hendry County, Hernando County, Highlands County, Hillsborough County, Lafayette County, Lake County, Lee County, Leon County, Levy County, Manatee County, Marion County, Martin County, Miami-Dade County, Monroe County, Nassau County, Okaloosa County, Okeechobee County, Osceola County, Pasco County, Pinellas County, Polk County, Putnam County, Santa Rosa County, Sarasota County, Seminole County, St. John’s County, St. Lucie County, Suwannee County, Taylor County, Volusia County, Wakulla County and Walton County and the Florida Association of Counties.
     They seek declaratory judgment and an injunction preventing Florida from withholding county money.
     They are represented by Susan Churuti of Tampa.

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