|Tallahassee, FL -
December 21, 2011|
Published in the Ocala Star-Banner on Tuesday, December 20, 2011 at 7:21 p.m.
Some recommendations being considered by a commission appointed by Gov. Rick Scott could spell trouble for the state's tax-supported hospitals, a top hospital executive said Tuesday.
One of the most troubling ideas being considered by the Florida Commission on Review of Taxpayer Funded Hospitals is a requirement that voters approve hospital taxing districts every eight years.
Sarasota Memorial Hospital CFO William Woeltjen told commission members that such a requirement could hamper the hospital's ability to issue bonds and would likely affect the hospital's bond rating, making it more expensive to borrow money.
“It would severely curtail our ability to finance projects on a long-term basis,” Woeltjen said of the voter approval requirement. He said that such a requirement could have made it difficult for the hospital to build a new $180 million nine-story bed tower set for completion in 2013.
Among the several potential recommendations the panel is considering, the voter approval measure is one of two that public hospital officials want to see changed before the commission's report is finalized and turned over to Scott and the Florida Legislature by Jan. 1.
Scott, who made his fortune running for-profit hospitals, appointed the panel in March and ordered a review of tax-supported hospitals. While Scott's focus started initially on hospitals, his budget director, Jerry McDaniel, said the governor will be reviewing a number of special taxing districts in the coming months.
Dominic Calabro, chairman of the commission, said that he's aware of the impact the proposal could have on financing projects but added that there is sentiment that the taxing districts need to be reviewed periodically.
“We want a consequential review where ultimately there is a chance for the voters to say ‘Hey, do we really want a district? Do we want to pay property taxes in the manner we have been?' ” Calabro said. “If they say not, the question is, ‘What's the alternative?' ”
The commission is scheduled to meet again Thursday. If the report is not finalized, the group will meet again Dec. 29.
In this file photo, Gov. Rick Scott discusses his budget proposals Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011, during a news conference on his new state budget proposals at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. Scott proposed a budget for the upcoming year that would increase money for schools, but would make dramatic cuts elsewhere to pay for the extra funding. (AP Photo)