Legislature Still Deadlocked Over New Budget
With time running out in their regular session, Florida's legislative leaders are at a stalemate over a new state budget and are starting to lash out at one another over the breakdown.
The first, crucial round of negotiations between the House and Senate fell apart on Sunday. The session is scheduled to end on May 5, but state law requires that all work on the budget be finished 72 hours ahead of a final vote.
The growing divide prompted Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran to deride fellow Republicans in the Senate, comparing them to national Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders.
"There are no limits to their liberalism," Corcoran said.
Sen. Jack Latvala, the Senate budget chief, said that Corcoran was acting as if "everyone was a liberal but him."
"I just think it's very unfortunate for the process, where we start calling names and broadly classify people instead of trying to constructively work out solutions," said Latvala.
Rep. Janet Cruz, a Tampa Democrat, called it an "outrage" that Republicans may end the session without passing a new budget.
"It's pathetic and it's below the level of competence that should be expected of an elected body," Cruz said.
The House and Senate have been working on a new budget to cover state spending from July 1 of this year to June 30, 2018. The two chambers started their budget negotiations with a roughly $4 billion difference in their rival spending plans.
For more than a week, the two sides privately traded broad offers that outlined how much money would be spent in key areas such as education, health care, the environment and economic development. Gov. Rick Scott has been highly critical of a House plan to shutter the state's economic development agency and to sharply cut money to Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing corporation. Scott has urged Senate Republicans to stand firm against House Republicans.
Part of this broad framework also included how much money the state should set aside in reserves.
Corcoran said one stumbling block was that the House wanted to place more money in reserves because of projections that show a possible budget deficit in the next two to three years if spending continues to increase.
"We refuse to let the state go bankrupt," said Corcoran, who also said such a strategy could force Florida to raise taxes.
Unable to reach a deal, the House over the weekend offered a "continuation" budget that would have kept intact state funding at current levels in many places. That would have allowed legislators to end the session on time and avoid the need for a costly special session. But it would have meant that there would be no money for any new projects.
The Senate, however, rejected this idea. Senate President Joe Negron, in a memo sent out to senators Monday morning, called it a "Washington creation where Congress is habitually unable to pass a budget."
"I have no interest in adopting this ineffectual practice," he added.
Despite Senate opposition, however, Corcoran announced late Monday the House would pass a second budget that would keep most spending at its current levels while allowing for some growth in Medicaid and public school spending. He said this budget would prevent a possible government shutdown later this summer.
"We remain hopeful that we will be able to reach an acceptable compromise," Corcoran said in a memo to members. "It is our responsibility to pass a budget that continues the functions of state government."