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House, Senate Budget Talks: More Money, More Problems

It was supposed to be simple.

An election year with the state’s top job at stake—no one really wanting to ruffle any feathers. Pack a budget with tidbits like more money for education and the environment—to help woo leery voters. Throw a couple of red-meat items like school vouchers and gun-bills to fire up the state’s Republican base—and wrap it up. A budget surplus promised to help grease the skids. But in the words of the Notorious B.I.G, "more money, more problems".

Hammering out a spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year is proving to be much harder than many expected, as the Florida House and Senate have bumped major spending plans up to their respective negotiators. Legislative negotiations committees failed to reach a deal on how to divvy up dollars on water projects like Everglades and Springs restoration. Both are priority plans of Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, whose Southeast district and much of Central Florida got hit with damaging flooding throughout the summer, toxic algae blooms and plant and animal die-offs. But when it came down to fund such projects, things have gone awry.

Wednesday evening saw Rep.Ben Albritton (R-Wauchula) reading from a list of line-items, each representing a spending program neither the House nor Senate agree on, like local water projects, land conservation and beach restoration.

The list was so long, Albritton had to take a deep breath before continuing, leading  Sen. Alan Hays, (R-Umatilla) to quip, “It might be easier if you just said the numbers we agree on.” 

Different ideas on how to spend state money also trickled over into the education part of the budget and Bradenton Republican Senator Bill Galvano notes, some deals come with strings attached. One of those deals fell through on the Education side with the House rejecting a Senate offer putting both chambers back to the starting line.

"Unfortunately, the chairs have a lot of work to do," Galvano said to reporters.

Many of the issues neither side can agree on will go to their chamber’s Appropriations chairs—Senator Negron, and Representative Seth McKeel. If McKeel and Negron can’t agree—unresolved budget points get bumped again to Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford. A final budget has to be in place by next Tuesday in order for the legislature to go home on time.