Republican-led Florida Legislature heads to overtime for budget


  • Photo by via Flickr
The Republican-dominated Legislature will need extra time to finish work on the state budget for the second time in three years, as lawmakers ended Tuesday with no agreement on an $83 billion spending plan for the year beginning July 1.

Negotiations between House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Senate President Joe Negron and their budget chiefs failed to work out a final deal that would allow the annual legislative session to end on Friday, as scheduled.

Because of a constitutionally required 72-hour "cooling off" period, an agreement on the budget needed to be finished Tuesday for the session to wrap up on time.

Instead, Negron stood on the Senate floor around 6:30 p.m. and conceded what had become increasingly clear: The House and Senate would miss the deadline.

"We will definitely not complete the budget work prior to the end of Friday," said Negron, R-Stuart. "So we'll continue to work diligently. ... I think given the current schedule, it's improbable we'd be able to finish before Friday."

Instead, legislative leaders will now try to work out a deal by Friday at the latest, which would allow the budget to be voted on as soon as Monday. It seemed unlikely that lawmakers would meet over the weekend, when Florida State University is scheduled to hold its graduation ceremonies and fill up hotel rooms across Tallahassee.

Negron's concession came less than a week after lawmakers had confidently predicted that they would be able to hammer out differences in their competing versions of the budget despite a tight timeline for negotiations.

Indeed, Corcoran had dismissed reporters' questions on the process Thursday by implying that reporters were upset that they were wrong about the potential need for a special or extended session to finish the budget.

"I know all of you wrote that it was going to be a train-wreck, we're going to go into 18 special sessions, we're never going to get done, but now that we have come together, we've worked out our differences and now we're having a conference, I think it's going to be a spectacular session," Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, said at the time. "There'll be no crashes, despite your reporting, and I think it's going to be a good day for the state of Florida."

Corcoran told reporters Tuesday afternoon that he believed there was a 90 percent chance that the budget would be done on time.

But the obstacles to a final deal apparently proved to be too much. Negron blamed "the number of issues that we were confronted with," from his own plans for higher education funding and a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to Corcoran's push for extra money for charter schools and teacher bonuses to what little lawmakers did to accommodate Gov. Rick Scott's agenda.

Corcoran and Negron stepped in to take over the negotiations Sunday afternoon following talks between their respective budget chairs. But there have been no public meetings since then.

The final stumbling block appeared to be over how to distribute $651 million in Medicaid cuts to hospitals. The House and the Senate have different formulas for how to hand out those reductions.

And Senate leaders are pitching a new source of money to help bridge the gap: nearly $200 million in payments that have been set aside while the state and the Seminole Tribe tried to work out an extension of a gambling pact.

"There may be a way to do a blended (hospital) model where both sides could win and, if we could get the House to agree on the money that we're holding from the Seminole Tribe, that money is potentially available on a very short turnaround and maybe some of that money could be used to offset the impact of the hospital cuts," Negron said.

It was widely assumed that the money would only be available if the Legislature came to an agreement on a new gambling deal —- negotiations that fell apart Tuesday. But Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who has spearheaded Senate efforts on gambling issues, said that's not case.

"I think ultimately we will try to access that money even if we don't have a deal with the Seminole Tribe," he told reporters Tuesday.

But Galvano also said the House has not agreed to use the funds.

Meanwhile, Scott was gearing up for one last push in pursuit of his priorities. The Legislature has largely ignored the governor's agenda this year, rejecting his request for economic-development incentives, sharply reducing his request for tourism marketing funds and declining to go along with a $200 million proposal to help fix the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee.

Scott's office said he would launch a "Fighting for Florida's Future" tour Wednesday, visiting the first four of several cities he will hit by the end of the week.

"All three of these issues are tied to jobs, but unfortunately the politicians in Tallahassee still haven't committed to funding these important priorities," Scott said. "There are still a few days left of the regular session which means that there is still time for the politicians to do the right thing and fund priorities to protect our environment and keep our economy growing."

The threat that Scott might veto the budget has loomed over the late-stage discussions, but Corcoran and Negron said they haven't had discussions recently about rounding up the two-thirds majorities that would be required for a veto override.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who has fought for some of Scott's priorities, said Tuesday he didn't believe the governor would veto the entire spending plan.

"Now ask me if he's going to veto parts of it, (and) I'd bet money on it," he said.

News Service of Florida writers Lloyd Dunkelberger and Dara Kam contributed to this report

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