House, Senate Leaders Highlight Differing GOP Visions

Mar 8, 2017
Originally published on March 7, 2017 4:48 pm

The Florida legislative session has begun, which means it’s time to get serious about the state’s budget.  But the past few months of prologue have done little to bring the parties together.

Florida’s lawmakers are back in the capitol and at the end of the day they have just one job: agree on a balanced budget.  The governor’s wish list includes money for tourism, economic development and a couple hundred million dollars in tax cuts.  House Speaker Richard Corcoran on the other hand, thinks Florida has a spending problem.

“I don’t care if you’re a Republican or Democrat,” Corcoran fumed after a budget projection conference last year.  “Every single government person comes up here and spends money like a teenager in a mall with a first time credit card and they’re locked in there—it’s gotta stop.”

“And we gotta start cutting up the credit cards.”

This week, measures eliminating the state’s business recruiter Enterprise Florida and scaling back its tourism promotion agency Visit Florida passed their final committee stops in the House.  Lawmakers there are planning to put the bills to a vote Thursday. 

In his opening statements, Corcoran emphasized the fight he’s led against wasteful spending at state agencies.

“We questioned an agency’s spending and exposed its failures and abuses,” Corcoran told the chamber.  “We forced another agency into the sunshine, sued a rapper and won, only to reveal even more wasteful spending.”

Corcoran’s single-minded focus on how agencies spend state dollars has landed a few in court, and a handful more in the paper.  Enterprise Florida has lost two leaders since Corcoran began attacking the agency last year, and a raft of executives at Visit Florida headed for the door after a contract with the rapper Pitbull came to light.

Meanwhile in the Senate, President Joe Negron opened the session highlighting legislative priorities like higher education and a new reservoir project south of Lake Okeechobee. 

“There’s an important sentence in Legacy Florida that’s part of our law now,” Negron reminded his members.  “It isn’t an idea, it’s not a suggestion, not a proposal—the law of the state of Florida and the one sentence says priority shall be given to projects that reduce the need for discharges east and west of Lake Okeechobee.”

Negron’s reservoir would reduce those discharges by drawing down water from the lake, treating it, and sending it south.  He envisions financing the project through a new round of bonding supported by amendment one dollars, but Corcoran isn’t keen on new borrowing.

The House Speaker, Senate President, and Governor are ostensibly playing for the same team.  But ideological divisions open up like chasms between the three Republicans leading Florida’s lawmaking institutions.  It’s promising that major legislation is already on the floor in both chambers, but if Florida’s leaders can’t find a way to bridge their divides session could run off the rails.  But Corcoran isn’t worried.

“And even a special session is not a disaster,” Corcoran says.  “It’s just a more complicated, longer discussion.”

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