Lawmakers reach late-night deal on budget

 

Aided by a last-minute infusion of cash that went to projects backed by the state’s Republican leaders, Florida legislators late Monday night reached a deal on a nearly $80 billion budget for the state.

The agreement, much of which was pounded out in private meetings and out of the view of the public, means legislators are on track to approve a budget by Friday. State law requires that lawmakers must wait 72 hours after the budget is placed on their desks before taking a final vote.

Legislators are racing against the clock to get their work done. State government could be partially shut down if a new budget isn’t in place by the end of June.

House and Senate budget negotiators in the last few days had agreed to set aside more than $400 million in tax cuts and to provide a 3 percent boost in the amount spent on each public school students.

But shortly before midnight, the budget chiefs clinched their final deal by adding roughly $300 million for hometown projects into the budget. Some of the money went to top priorities of House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner.

Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican, wanted money for his initiative to offer bonuses to school districts that require children to wear school uniforms. Gardiner, an Orlando Republican, won $15 million for a push to build a new downtown campus in University of Central Florida.

Gardiner also got the House to agree to expand eligibility requirements for a fledging program that aids special needs children.

Sen. Tom Lee, the Senate budget chief and a Brandon Republican, defended the decision to add a long list of additional projects in the waning moments of budget negotiations. But he contended many of the projects had previously been discussed before.

“I realize the hour’s late and we are running up against a deadline,” Lee said. “This has been the product of multiple days of discussions…The fact that you are just now seeing it doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been a real inclusive process that we followed to get to this place.”

Rep. Richard Corcoran, the House budget chief who had required House members to fill out forms documenting their budget requests, asserted that “this is the way government should work.”

Legislators usually pass a budget in the spring, but this year the House and Senate were at odds over health care and health care spending. The Senate wanted to extend health care coverage by drawing down federal money linked to President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. But House Republicans were firmly against the proposal. The stalemate caused the regular session to end abruptly.

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