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Lawmakers Prepare To Vote On Budget

Florida's Senate Chamber
Nick Evans

Florida lawmakers are preparing to vote on a budget Friday evening.  The compromise spending plan comes more than six weeks after relations in the Florida Capitol broke down.

Back in January Gov. Rick Scott was pushing a package of tax cuts worth $673 million.  Not long after, House lawmakers chimed in, hoping to push that figure north to $690 million. 

Oh what a difference a healthcare fight makes. 

With a large pool of federal funding for low income health care set to expire, some lawmakers called for Medicaid expansion.  The resulting conflict brought the legislative session to an early end and forced lawmakers to allocate state dollars for the program known as LIP.  Lawmakers have now settled on a significantly reduced tax cut package—coming in around $430 million.  Senate Appropriations Chair Tom Lee says it was necessary to reach a balance between tax breaks and hospital funding.

“It was important to different individuals that were critical to getting allocations necessary to come to this budget that there be some equilibrium between the backfill of LIP and a commitment to tax cuts,” Lee says.

But even with low income pool allocations crowding out some cuts, Lee says lawmakers have taken action on a majority of Governor Scott’s priorities.  And Senate President Andy Gardiner says it will be up to the governor to decide what stays and what goes for the final spending plan

“I think all in all it’s a good product,” Gardiner says, “and the governor will get his shot at it, and he’ll do what he believes is the right thing and then we’ll be back here before you know it.”

Gardiner says striking a balance between funding health and funding cuts is going to be an ongoing concern. 

“We put $450 million into the low income pool which is something we’ve not had to do before,” Gardiner says.  “And so we’ve encouraged our members to be prepared for that because next year when the low income pool actually drops down even lower, you’re potentially looking at more money going into low income pool.” 

“So as we’ve said it’s kind of the new norm until we come up with a long-term health care solution for the uninsured,” Gardiner says.

After a rancorous few months it appears the two houses have reached a stable truce if not an abiding partnership, and lawmakers look to punctuate the session with a bit of collegiality.  Friday evening at 5:37 the Senate will be able to take up the budget and Gardiner expects to pass it through quickly.  He says the House plans to go into session shortly thereafter at six. 

“And then we expect them to act quickly and accordingly, and we hope to have a sine die ceremony and a hanky drop,” Gardiner said from the Senate rostrum Thursday morning.   “Sergeant, I will tell you, we’re doing it for you—we know it’s your last one and it was very important for me that we have that opportunity for you.”

After nearly 40 years, Senate Sergeant at Arms Donald Severance is retiring, and there was no sine die ceremony when relations between the chambers disintegrated back in April.  Friday night he’ll drop the hanky to signal the end of session for the last time.

Nick Evans came to Tallahassee to pursue a masters in communications at Florida State University. He graduated in 2014, but not before picking up an internship at WFSU. While he worked on his degree Nick moved from intern, to part-timer, to full-time reporter. Before moving to Tallahassee, Nick lived in and around the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years. He listens to far too many podcasts and is a die-hard 49ers football fan. When Nick’s not at work he likes to cook, play music and read.