FL Lawmakers Near Budget Finish Line

May 3, 2017

Staffers handing out budget offers ahead of Wednesday's hearing.
Credit Nick Evans

The Florida Legislature wasn’t able to get it done on time, but leaders are nearing the finish line for the coming fiscal year’s budget.  Drafters closed out numerous portions of the spending plan Wednesday after days of behind the scenes negotiations.

Late Tuesday Senate President Joe Negron acknowledged what many around Florida’s Capitol assumed.

“So we will definitely not complete the budget work prior to the end of Friday,” Negron told reporters, “and so we’ll continue to work diligently—we made a lot of progress today in a number of budget areas.” 

“So I’m optimistic we can continue that, but given the current schedule it’s improbable we’d be able to finish before Friday.”

State law mandates a 72 hour cooling off period between a budget’s release and a vote.  So Tuesday was the last day on which leaders could finish their work and still make it out on time. 

But legislators are making progress.  Funding for education, the environment and criminal justice are largely settled.  House budget chief Carlos Trujillo says the healthcare budget has held up progress, but both sides have reached agreement on how to reduce Medicaid funding for hospitals.

Rep. Carlos Trujillo (R-Miami)
Credit Nick Evans

“We’ve agreed to the model, and were agreeing to the number,” Trujillo says. “What we just want to see—and we have an agreement—is once you plug in the new funding formula what it looks like on paper, but we do have an agreement.”

The plan will cut roughly $200 million in state funding which means Florida will lose a total of about half a billion once federal matching dollars are added into the bargain.  They’ve also squared away oversight for a $1.5 billion infusion to the low income pool—a fund compensating hospitals for unpaid care.  State administrators will develop a plan for the money and if both presiding officers agree to reject it, those administrators will go back to the drawing board.  Latvala explains originally the House wanted either chamber to be able to reject the plan.

“One of the concerns had been that potentially maybe the House might not be as eager to accept those federal funds as the industry is to get them,” Latvala says.

But when it comes to the environmental budget, Latvala says a popular land buying program is getting zeroed out.

“As the father of Florida Forever, as the person who passed that bill, I’m obviously disappointed to have a year when I’m appropriations chair and not be able to fund it.”

Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater)
Credit Nick Evans

But he contends the spending plan represents a shift in focus rather than a rejection when it comes to land buying.  He points to the reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee—Senate President Joe Negron’s chief priority this year.

“Well obviously that is a area where we’re committing a lot of funds on into the future, some of which were finds that we used to spend for land buying,” Latvala says.  “But it’s going to be spent for land buying—it’s just down there, it’s not timberland in North Florida.”

As lawmakers continue hammering out a budget Governor Scott is touring the state taking shots at the politicians in Tallahassee for passing legislation that threatens Florida jobs.  Legislative leaders have so far proven lukewarm or out-and-out hostile to the governor’s priorities.  When the budget lands on Scott’s desk he’ll have the option to reject the bill outright.