Orlando Sentinel (Florida)
January 23, 2004 Friday, FINAL
HEADLINE: GOV. BUSH DEFENDS KIDCARE FUNDING
BYLINE: Jeb Bush
A recent editorial in the Orlando Sentinel and a column by Myriam Marquez criticized my administration's budget for 2004-2005 and assailed Florida's commitment to health insurance programs for children. The Sentinel is wrong on both counts. My budget proposal not only ensures the long-term viability of KidCare, it supports the long-term economic health of our state, while building on Florida's impressive record of economic growth in fiscally perilous times.
Over the past six years, we have prioritized the state's needs to make the most of limited resources during tough budget years. Fiscal responsibility is rarely universally popular, but our discipline has yielded results few states can match.
Since 1998, we have provided more than $8 billion in tax relief to Floridians. We have also controlled government growth, ensuring our state spending doesn't rise faster than the personal income of the people we serve. We've increased state revenues and, in the last year alone, created more than 97,000 jobs. The people in those jobs give less of their hard-earned money to the state government today than at any time in the past decade. Florida's tax dollars do not belong to the government; they belong to the taxpayers, and we are committed to making the most of their investment.
I'm proposing a total budget of $55.4 billion for next year, $1.4 billion larger than the budget for the current year. This budget limits government growth to 2.6 percent while substantially increasing funding for the programs that are most important to the people of this state, including education, health and human services, public safety, environmental protection and economic development.
Our consistent record of planning for long-term, sustainable growth has allowed us to expand coverage for child health insurance dramatically. Since 1999, my first year as governor, funding for health insurance for children has increased by $1.4 billion, an 85 percent growth. During the same period, the program has doubled the number of children served, from 806,233 in 1999 to more than 1.6 million by the end of 2003, a 93 percent increase. We will continue to increase funding for this important program in the next fiscal year, reaching out to 60,000 more children.
Criticism of current KidCare funding is based on a misconception: Critics have neglected to mention that federal matching funds are not unlimited. Democrats' funding proposal would not only bankrupt the system by 2006, it would create a $248 million deficit in the federal funds. Rather than borrowing ourselves into oblivion, we need to make sure more children and families have access to private insurance. That is why I have appointed a task force on the uninsured and will propose significant reforms in the next legislative session.
I look forward to working with the Florida Legislature to share ideas, pass the best budget possible, and take the steps required to ensure the sun continues to shine on Florida.