Gov. Scott's Budget Opens Rifts With House, Senate Leaders

Feb 3, 2017

Credit DXR via wikimedia commons

Florida’s governor, House speaker and Senate president are circling one another looking for leverage on their own budget priorities.

A pre-session news conference with legislative leaders didn’t work out quite like House Speaker Richard Corcoran wanted—he was hoping to show a few videos.

“I said to Fred, get three different videos,” Corcoran told reporters,  “one we’ll show like me and three people and they’re all jumping up and down and celebrating like at a birthday party and I was going to say that’s one way session could end.”

The others?  The three stooges poking at one another, or two trains running into each other. 

The brash House speaker would know more about the latter than most.  In 2015 as budget chair, Corcoran led a revolt in the House over accepting federal Medicaid dollars under the Affordable Care Act. 

Now, as the governor unveils his new $83.5 billion dollar spending plan, familiar tensions are flaring up.

“Our Fighting for Florida’s Future budget invests nearly $4 billion in our environment,” Florida Governor Rick Scott says, “with record funding once again for our springs, and $60 million for the new Indian River and Caloosahatchee clean up initiative.”

What he isn’t including in that portion of the budget puts him at odds with Senate President Joe Negron.  The Stuart Republican is pushing for a new reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to treat water and reduce the likelihood of toxic discharges.  Negron argues even some of his critics are on the same page.

“Now were in the phase where the discussion is not, do we need it?  Is this really a problem?” Negron says, “Now we’re talking about when it should be done?  And how it should be done?”

Meanwhile, it’s Scott’s inclusion of incentive funding—$85 million to attract businesses and $26 million to promote tourism—that’s raising the ire of House leaders like Corcoran.  Never a fan of what he calls corporate welfare, Corcoran points to waste at agencies like Visit Florida.

“You know we kind of went downstairs in the kitchen at about three in the morning and we flicked on the lights,” Corcoran says, “and I don’t mean this in a disparaging way to anybody, but there’s cockroaches everywhere.”

Scott contends the state gets that money back—and then some—in the form of sales and property tax receipts.  

“We have to continue marketing Florida,” Scott argues, “We cannot let up.  Anyone who thinks otherwise is turning their back on valuable jobs.”

Corcoran’s response was characteristically colorful.

“You ever watch that movie The Princess Bride?” Corcoran asked before launching into a description of Wallace Shawn’s character Vizzini—the kidnapper who repeatedly shouts “inconceivable.”

When the movie’s hero is on the verge of “inconceivably” catching up to Vizzini, the swordfighter Inigo Montoya turns to his boss and says, “You keep using that word—I do not think it means what you think it means.”

On the governor’s claim “anyone” who opposes tourism funding is abandoning jobs, Corcoran says, “If he started that sentence with anyone, I don’t think anyone means what he thinks it means.”

Corcoran, Negron and their proxies will come up with their own spending plans to compete with Scott’s proposals as the fight over Florida’s money heats up.  Negron remains optimistic.  His idea to issue bonds for the new reservoir is unpopular in the House and the governor’s mansion, but he’s putting his faith in the budget negotiation process.  Corcoran, on the other hand, is taking a hard line—a House committee has already unveiled a bill outright eliminating the tourism and business agencies Scott defends.  Corcoran is demanding massive cuts and dangling the threat of another mutiny if he doesn’t get his way.