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Budget Deal Goes Back And Forth As Time Winds Down

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Spending offers are flying back and forth between House and Senate leaders.  But Nick Evans reports time is running short on this year’s legislative session.

There are few clichés Florida lawmakers invoke more often than landing a plane.  If a speaker is going too long?  Bring it in for landing.  If a lawmaker is negotiating with other members?  I think we’re going to be able to bring this in for a landing.  When it comes to the turbulence surrounding this year’s budget, drafters may be keeping the fasten seat belt sign on. 

“Remember, deal struck means nothing final,” Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon warns.  “My first year here there was a deal struck and none of the things that were struck in the deal passed the Senate floor.”

Late Tuesday the House and Senate seemed ready to begin conference—a negotiation process where lawmakers hash out the specific appropriations from previously agreed upon allocations. 

But Wednesday morning Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala pumped the brakes.  The Clearwater Republican told the blog Florida Politics there’s no deal before tweeting that any agreement would be announced by presiding officers. 

Following a different conference on gaming, Bradenton Republican Senator Bill Galvano tried to smooth things over.

“I wouldn’t classify anything as having fallen apart,” Galvano says.  “I think that when we closed business yesterday the major issues had been agreed on, and at this point there’s some tweaking going on what I call second and third tier issues.”

And Senate President Joe Negron elaborated on the state of affairs after Wednesday’s floor session.

“We would accept the House position in K-12 and their funding priorities and the House would accept the funding priorities and the policy in the area of our universities and our colleges,” Negron says.

That means the Senate is greenlighting dollars for teacher bonuses and a new charter school initiative called schools of hope. 

Next up, Senate Bill 10 which would build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.  It’s one of Negron’s chief priorities this year.

“Then the House would agree to accept Senate Bill 10 in exchange for some other House priorities that we’re in the process of delineating,” Negron explains, “but that would include the House position on RLE.”

RLE is required local effort—a stream of education dollars derived from property taxes.  Property values are rising which would normally mean more money coming in, but although the rate is staying static, the House considers it a tax increase.  To keep the required local effort where it is, the House appears ready to budge on borrowing.  Negron explains their agreement allows for $800 million in bonding to build his reservoir. 

But likely lost in the back and forth are Governor Rick Scott’s priorities, and although he holds the veto pen, he can’t add in the incentive and tourism dollars he wants.  The Legislature has until Tuesday to complete a budget if they want to get out on 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.