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Top Senate Democrat says chambers will split the difference on state budget

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There were competing accounts Wednesday of negotiations over the next state budget, with the Senate’s top Democrat saying a deal’s been struck.

The chambers have agreed to meet in the middle on the $4 billion that separates their respective proposed budgets, taking $2 billion from the Senate plan and adding $2 billion to the House version, Senate Democratic leader Oscar Braynon told his caucus Wednesday morning.

“There’s been a deal struck,” Braynon said.

“Remember, a deal struck is nothing final,” he cautioned. “My first year here, there was a deal struck and none of the things that were struck in the deal passed. That’s always a possibility.”

There still was no formal announcement from House or Senate leaders, although House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced to the House Tuesday that a deal was close.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala tweeted Wednesday morning that there was no deal yet — and that “when an agreement is reached on the budget it will be announced by the President and Speaker.”

Katie Betta, spokeswoman to Senate President Joe Negron, said she was not aware of any deal.

Braynon expected the leadership to name conferees during Wednesday’s floor session and for negotiations to begin that evening.

“The only thing that really is struck and that is set in stone is the allocations,” Braynon said.

“The Senate and the House have come to an agreement on the total number of our budget. Our budget was $4 billion bigger than theirs, so I think we met in the middle, so our budget is $2 billon more than the House had.”

Democrats have more clout in the Senate than in the House, he reminded his caucus — especially since the resignation of Hialeah Republican Frank Artiles.

“This isn’t like the House. There ain’t enough of us for them to not put people on the conference committee. Every single one of us will be on a conference committee of one of the Appropriations (sub)committees that you’re on,” he said.

“We have juice that we haven’t always had in the past,” Sen. Jeff Clemens said.

Braynon cautioned:

“There’s going to have to be $2 billion worth of cuts that they’re going to have to find as they move through the next week. Everybody watch out for everybody else’s projects, depending on where you get assigned.”

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Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

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