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An $80 Billion Budget Taking Shape

The House and Senate gave tentative approval Thursday to competing spending plans that hover around $80 billion. Republicans touted tax cuts while Democrats railed against budget cuts.

The Senate wants to give Governor Rick Scott’s recruiters $250 million to attract businesses. The House does not. The House wants $1 billion in tax cuts. The Senate says no way.

Haggling over the differences will color everything that happens for the final half of session.

On the House floor, Republicans patted themselves on the back for finding a way to cut another billion dollars in taxes, tuck away $2 billion for a rainy day, and still increase education spending.

Here’s how Republican Danny Burgess of Zephryhills describes it.

“Florida policies have helped foster over the last year 233,100 jobs and our job-growth rates are higher than other fiscally responsible, irresponsible states within the nation," he said. "And that proves that our policies are working, ladies and gentlemen.”

And here’s how Republican Manny Diaz of Hialeah Gardens describes it.

“This is historic level of funding which is 105 dollars higher per student than the 2007-2008 levels, which everyone always speaks of.”

The biggest ignition point is abortion. The House bans any spending on Planned Parenthood. Republican Rep. Larry Ahern referred to controversial videos taken in a Texas clinic that purported to show staff members negotiating the sale of fetal tissue.

“We’ve all seen the videos. We know what’s going on. The dirty little secret is out. So we have another way," he said.

But Democrats were quick to correct the record. They pointed out that a Texas grand jury cleared the Houston clinic and indicted the filmmakers instead.

Rep. Kevin Rader of Boca Raton reminded his colleagues that investigations ordered by Governor Rick Scott also came up empty handed.

“I’m curious how much evidence of mishandling of fetal remains existed at any of the 16 clinics investigated across the state. I’m curious. I haven’t heard anything.”

Democrats also pointed out that tax cuts aren’t free. Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Opa Locka, said the plan rewards businesses and corporations at the cost of public health.

“The budget cuts over 700 positions in the Department of Health. It cuts those positions at a time when Florida is seeing the highest number of new HIV Aids cases in the nation," she said.

That’s not to say there weren’t bright spots. Rep. Gayle Harrell of Stuart reminded critics of money the budget sets aside for the environment.

“Legacy Florida is going to be a dedicated funding source for Everglades restoration. We’re putting 198 million dollars into this national treasure.”

But if anyone thinks negotiations will be sunshine and roses, Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee of Brandon says think again. Here’s what he told his colleagues on the floor before the conferencing began.

“Let me just say that if we’ve got a billion dollars or two billion dollars that we can return to taxpayers, I completely agree, that they can spend it better than I can. But we simply aren’t there.”

Meanwhile, Scott has some ideas of his own. He’s proposing a $79.3 billion budget that cuts taxes far differently than the House has in mind. And Scott has the line-item veto.

A Miami native, former WFSU reporter Jim Ash is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, most of it in print. He has been a member of the Florida Capital Press Corps since 1992.