Budget Talks Begin But Some Question Transparency

Apr 27, 2017

Budget conference beginning.
Credit Nick Evans

Budget talks have begun—or at least the public face of them have started.  Lawmakers are planning an extremely tight timeline.

The House and Senate presiding officers have been trading offers behind closed doors for over a week, and now they’re bringing the measure into the open.

“We have reached an agreement on allocations, and budget conference will begin this afternoon,” Senate President Joe Negron announced Thursday.

He explains raises for state workers, a major priority for Senate budget chief Jack Latvala, are tucked into the nearly $83 billion deal. 

“You know based on my experience you should never bet against the appropriations chair of the House or Senate, and you shouldn’t bet against the Patriots,” Negron said.

And Latvala says the increase is broad.

“Every group of public employees in Florida will have an increase in pay except one—and that’s us,” Latvala said with a chuckle.

“Sorry about that.”

But the backroom dealing has raised concerns among lawmakers left out of the negotiations.  Still, House Speaker Richard Corcoran defends the process.  

“Everything that was discussed between the two chambers, or between members, or between the chairmen, or between the subcommittee chairmen has been stuff that’s been discussed and you’ve seen it all in the open,” Corcoran said after the first budget conference meeting.

“We’ve traveled this state and talked about all those things that are priorities of the Senate and priorities of the House and it was completely open,” Corcoran said.

It’s also raising the ire of the guy who has to sign off on the final deal.  Governor Rick Scott’s campaign committee released a new web ad criticizing state legislators for their refusal to fund his priorities.

And Scott says if he were a House or Senate member he’d be furious.

“They have the same number of votes as the speaker and the Senate president,” Scott said Thursday afternoon.  “They should be in the discussion just like the speaker and the Senate president. Everybody should be there and be part of that conversation, because if I was a House or Senate member I’d say well look I want to represent my district—I can’t represent my district if I’m not at the table.”

Scott’s cozy relationship with President Donald Trump likely helped the state secure an agreement to fund hospitals that treat low income Floridians.  But the governor quickly asked for money to help improve the Lake Okeechobee dike and even more state tourism dollars than he outlined in his initial spending plan. State lawmakers have largely balked at those requests. 

Budget drafters are expecting to have their first pass at the budget done by noon Saturday.