Senate President Joe Negron conceded the obvious Tuesday night: The House and Senate won’t wrap up budget negotiations in time to adjourn as scheduled on Friday.
“You know the timetable as well as I do, with the 72-hour requirement. So we will definitely not complete the budget work prior to the end of Friday, and so we’ll continue to work diligently,” Negron told reporters after the Senate recessed for the evening.
“We made a lot of progress today in a number of budget areas. I’m optimistic we can continue that. But I think, given the current schedule, it’s improbable we’ll be able to finish by Friday.”
House Speaker Richard Corcoran expressed hope earlier in the day that the session would finish on time, but other denizens of the Capitol gave up on that idea as the day progressed.
Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott is taking to the road to criticize the Legislature for snubbing his bids for economic development money, repairs to the dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee, greater support for public education, tax cuts, and other priorities.
Negron defended the emerging budget on all of those points.
“We certainly can’t accept every priority every session,” Negron said.
He opened the prospect of capturing $200 million that the Seminole Tribe has paid the state under its gambling compact. The state hasn’t spent the money because of legal complications, and pending passage of a gambling bill — which as of Tuesday had failed.
Still, Negron suggested the money could help with the budget.
“It we can work together with the House to make that happen, I think that would be a way to mitigate some of the situations you’re discussing,” he said when asked about the governor’s stance.
Negron said outstanding disputes involve “a very small portfolio of the entire budget and all of the policy issues. Before any of those are ratified, we’ll certainly have public meetings with the Appropriations chairs.”
Lawmakers must wait three days before they can vote on any compromise.
He confirmed that a sticking point was health care spending.
“It almost always happens that the health care budget comes in last, because it’s the most difficult,” he said.
“I’m hoping maybe this evening we can talk about ways to come to a principled resolution that would involve accommodating the Senate’s concern about money following the patient, and the House’s concern about making sure our safety nets are not hurt and our children’s hospitals are protected,” Negron said.
“There may be a way to do a blended model where both sides could win.”
This year presented a particularly vexing mix of problems, he said — including gambling, Lake O, education funding, and hospitals.
“We may need a little extra time to complete it. But, as I said yesterday, it’s better to get it right than to get it done quickly.”
Presuming an extension is inevitable, lawmakers might go begging for shelter if they try to work over the weekend — Florida State University is holding its spring commencement, and hotel rooms and other accommodations are booked.
“Here’s what my first preference would be — that we complete our budget work; that the budget is actually printed and on the desk of House members and senators in its complete and final form; and then, if there’s a short extension that has to happen for the 72-hour rule and for senators and House members to review the budget, that would be fine.
“And then we could set a date for when we would come back to take a final vote that convenient for all parties.”