Florida lawmakers really only have one job they’re required to complete each year, and it’s not to make laws; it’s to pass a budget. But the recent shooting at a South Florida high school and its resulting debate over gun control, has pushed the budgetary task to the back-burner, and could throw the legislature into overtime.
House Rules Chairman Jose Oliva acknowledged the possibility of an extended session recently when asked for a status update on the budget by reporters. He said he hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
“Should session get extended, and it’s certainly not what I want to see, but should it get extended it would get us some opportunity to further flesh out some of these things. But I don’t anticipate that will be the case. I think the hope is to bring something in a bipartisan way that the entire House can vote for.”
It was one of a few warning signs that this year’s lawmaking session may not conclude by its slated March 9th deadline. And a day after Oliva’s remarks, House Speaker Richard Corcoran was more blunt about it.
“The chairman of appropriations and the President of the Senate need to grow up," Corcoran told reporters.
The task of ironing out what’s shaping up to be about an $87 billion spending plan isn’t easy. The budget is broken down by category and agency and under each of those are various programs and entities. Every year lawmakers tinker with the price tags, adding and subtracting dollars, until they come up with something both the house and senate—and enough members in each, can agree on.
Normally, the House and Senate would have already agreed on allocations—how much to spend on each category. And there would be joint committees of both chambers meeting to determine the finer points. But Corcoran claims the process is at a standstill.
“I’ll be frank on this one. I’ve had conversations, Chairman [Jose] Oliva’s had conversations, Chairman [Carlos] Trujillo has had conversations and Chairman [Chris] Sprowls has had conversations. We don’t know what to say more to the Senate in terms of let’s start negotiations. They’ve completely stone-walled us. They’re acting like kindergarteners.”
Part of the problem is likely discovered over the priorities of both men. Corcoran is pushing a massive education measure that contains language that could severely cripple the power of Florida’s teachers unions. That’s so far a no-go in the Senate. And Negron is pushing a bill he claims will make the state’s public universities more competitive. It’s being met with pushback in the House. Yet the Senate president maintains, everything is fine.
“As all of you know, I’ve chaired the appropriations committee in the House and Senate, and I’m very optimistic we’ll be able to resolve our differences in an amicable way and I’m confident the leaders in the House and Senate will help us get there," Negron said.
Now there are more speed bumps in the road to session end, include late-additions, like more money for mental health workers in schools and increases to shore up school safety. Both come with a far larger price tag than lawmakers initially intended, but Senate Budget chairman Rob Bradley, a target of Corcoran’s ire, says there’s money in place to cover it. Still, lawmakers may have to back away from a favorite issue: tax cuts.
“There’s no price one can put on the safety of our children and certainly if there’s something we can do to protect the safety of our children and we have to forgo tax cuts to do so, that’s would be a decision all of us would happily and eagerly make," Bradley said.
The chamber’s approved separate funding proposals earlier in the month that are about $100 million apart total. However, there are big differences in several key areas like education, where the chamber’s differ by $600 million when it comes to funding higher education. If lawmakers get to March 9 with no budget in place, the governor will call a special session and the only thing the legislature can consider is the budget.