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Constitution Revision Commission

Constitutional review panel money becomes a ‘bump issue’

The House and Senate is seemingly at odds over whether to pay for the Constitution Revision Commission.

A Sunday spreadsheet that came out of the first 2017-18 state budget conference chairs meeting of the day had a line item for the commission, which meets every 20 years to review and revise the state’s governing document.

That includes going around the state to hold public hearings for ideas on possible amendments.

The item was among more than 40 statewide appropriation bump issues in what’s known as “administered funds.” Bump issues are those that ultimately may have to be worked out between Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

The spreadsheet shows that the Senate offered to fund the commission with $2 million; the House offers nothing.

“I would have to go back and look at it,” House Appropriations chair Carlos Trujillo said after the meeting. “Honestly, I couldn’t tell you anything specific about it.”

Added Senate Appropriations chair Jack Latvala: “I’m not familiar with that.”

Gov. Rick Scott asked for the commission funding out of general revenue in the “executive direction and support services” section of his proposed budget.

“We are continuing to watch this and support what the governor included in his budget,” Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said.

Added Meredith Beatrice, spokeswoman for commission chair Carlos Beruff: “We are working with the CRC’s appointing authorities and monitoring the budget process.”

Proviso language on Tampa airport audit ‘bumped’ to budget chairs

While Senate and House negotiators made progress on many tourism, transportations and economic development budgetary issues Saturday, a slew of line items will be “bumped” up to Appropriations Chairs Jack Latvala and Carlos Trujillo.

Most notable was a bump of proviso language on an audit of Tampa International Airport’s master renovation plan.

State Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican, earlier this month had called for the audit, alleging “potential public corruption” over the facility’s billion-dollar-plus renovation.

Another bump was whether to require the Department of Economic Opportunity to submit quarterly reports on employee travel and training costs.

Among spending bumps are the “Hotel Ponce de Leon restoration, Molly Wiley Art Building” on the Flagler College campus in St. Augustine, and the city of Bunnell’s Commerce Parkway connector road.

The Senate also reopened a Walton County transportation initiative for County Road 30-A, offering to spend $1.96 million in trust fund dollars.

With individual budget conferences having ended, Latvala and Trujillo are expected to meet in the late afternoon to begin work on bump issues.

House considers contentious Tampa International Airport audit

Budget language filed in the Florida House Saturday morning would OK a controversial state audit of Tampa International Airport.

As reported by Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida, Brandon Republican Sen. Tom Lee unexpectedly filed an amendment last week on the Senate floor, which proposes an audit of TIA’s renovation master plan.

Lee’s amendment raised concern with two other Tampa Bay-area Senate Republicans — appropriations chair Jack Latvala of Clearwater and Dana Young of Tampa.

The Senate rejected the amendment.

Pensacola Republican Rep. Clay Ingram, chair of the House transportation budget, offered the language in the House budget.

St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, Ingram’s counterpart in the Senate transportation committee, should respond sometime Saturday, as part of continuing budget negotiations.

Dixon notes that Brandes did seem to agree with Lee that an audit may be needed.

“We should give great deference to any senator who asks for an audit,” Brandes said earlier.

Top line tourism, economic development money closed out, chair says

Don’t expect any movement in the budgets for Enterprise Florida and VISIT FLORIDA at the conference committee level.

“I’m authorized to negotiate quite a few things in this budget and there’s a few things I’m not, and those would be among the things I’m not,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican chairing the Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development Appropriations conference committee.

The panel met again at 8 a.m. Saturday. Earlier this week, legislative leadership agreed on roughly $83 billion in allocations, the main pots of money for major spending areas.

A deal already announced deal gave $25 million to VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency and $16 million in operating money only to EFI, Florida’s economic development arm. The money for EFI, however, would be recurring, or repeated year after year. Both entities are public-private agencies but funded largely with taxpayers’ money.

Gov. Rick Scott has asked for $85 million for EFI’s business incentives to lure businesses to the state, which House Speaker Richard Corcoran derides as “corporate welfare.”

The governor also wants $100 million for VISIT FLORIDA, saying the tourism industry and its jobs depend on it.  The current proposal cuts its funding from nearly $80 million.

“Obviously, this is all a negotiation between the Speaker and the President—and ultimately the Governor—as to where the topline issues end up,” Brandes added. “If they choose to reopen (them), that’s up to the Appropriations chairs and President and Speaker’s Office.”

The committee could meet once or twice more today before a noon deadline, when unresolved issues “bump up” to Senate Appropriations chair Jack Latvala and House Appropriations chair Carlos Trujillo.

After noon on Sunday, disagreements on spending go directly to Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron. On Friday, Corcoran told House members there would be no floor session on Monday.

State Rep. Clay Ingram, a Pensacola Republican and vice-chair of the committee, said without money for incentives, Enterprise Florida would be limited to “business marketing,” similar to what VISIT FLORIDA does to encourage tourists to visit the state. And EFI’s budget would only have around $2.5 million for that purpose.

Ingram also said he expected the House’s oversight requirements on VISIT FLORIDA to be part of the final budget deal. The speaker, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, has been critical of the agency, even threatening to sue after it refused to reveal a secret deal with Miami rap superstar Pitbull to promote Florida tourism.

The oversight measures include requiring contracts “to contain performance standards, operating budgets and salaries of employees of the contracting entity,” and those deals would have to be posted online.

The House plan limits employees’ travel expenses and would cap annual pay at $130,000. It also would delete a public records exemption for “marketing projects and research.” It would ban any promotional project from “benefit(ing) only one company.” And it would force the agency to be funded with more private dollars.

When asked if there could be any “extraordinary circumstances” that could cause the top line agreement to change, Brandes smiled.

“I would say extraordinary circumstances happen in this process all the time,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Tampa Bay officials OK with TBARTA bill, now before full Senate

Officials had high hopes for a bill to reconfigure Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA).

Those same officials are now expressing some contentment following an amendment from the bill’s original sponsor, Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala.

The legislation would change TBARTA’s name from the Tampa Bay Regional Transportation Authority to the Tampa Bay Regional Transit Authority, and reduce the number of counties involved in addressing the region’s traffic issues.

It has been a top priority of the Tampa Bay area business establishment, specifically the Tampa Bay Partnership.

But there were major concerns expressed by the bill’s supporters last week after the measure significantly weakened by an amendment filed by Tampa Bay Republicans Tom Lee and Jeff Brandes. That amendment required that any proposed rail project coming out of the newly formed transit agency would need approval by each county’s Metropolitan Planning Agency as well as the Legislature itself.

Latvala produced a new version of the bill Thursday, with the MPO’s and the Legislature’s approval only required for state funding of rail projects.

“I think the intention of the previous changes were not to insert any new processes or roadblocks to any kind of transit but was really a statement by Brandes and Lee to reinforce the steps that were necessary to consider light rail in Tampa Bay,” says Rick Homans of the Tampa Bay Partnership.

“And so what I think that Sen. Latvala has done with his amendment is to reinforce that the intent is to underline these important steps, but not to create new steps in the process, things like feasibility studies, approval by the MPO, an act by the Legislature,” Homans adds.

“All of these steps if state funding is involved in a rail project, are important steps to take, and this bill as it delineates and outlines that rigorous process that the community has to go thru if it’s going to seek state funds for rail in Tampa Bay.”

The bill originally included only Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties in the new TBARTA, but later Manatee was counted in the bill. Last week’s amendment inserted Hernando County into the bill, making it almost as large as TBARTA’s initial seven-county focus. Hernando is still on the bill.

Homans spins that as a win, saying this brings in some influential Tampa Bay-area Senators into the mix.

“On the political front, this is a project for the Tampa Bay Legislative Delegation, and this brings Wilton Simpson and Bill Galvano into the process,” he says, “and they have a stake in the success of the future of our regional transportation system … I think that it’s important that were all working on this together.

“Having Manatee and Hernando at the table shows how this is a region that’s connected and we all have a stake in building this transit system,” he says.

The Partnership has been a driving force behind the legislation. They paid for a study conducted by the D.C.-based Enos Center for Transportation on a regional structure for transportation planning, operations, and decision-making is that was presented to the entire Bay Area Legislative Delegation in February.

Homans credits his team of lobbyists, including Ryan Patmintra, Ron Pierce and Seth McKeel with discussions over the past week with Senators Latvala, Lee and Brandes as helping to come together on the bill.

“What’s going forward (today) is a win for Tampa Bay,” he says. “And it’s a team effort on the part of the legislative delegation.”

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the TBARTA bill Friday, where it will then go to the House, where the companion bill is sponsored by Plant City’s Dan Raulerson.

Rick Scott demands full funding for tourism, development

Rick Scott did not look like he was negotiating.

The governor fired a shot over the bow of the Legislature, all but demanding full funding in the state budget for his 2017-18 priorirites: $200 million to begin fixing the dike at Lake Okeechobee, $100 million for VISIT FLORIDA, and salvaging Enterprise Florida from House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s wrecking ball.

“All three of those project impact jobs,” he said. “And whatever happens after this session—I’ll have 610 days to go—I’ll spend every day trying to get more jobs in this state.”

Scott met briefly with reporters Thursday after a series of meetings with state senators, including Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala.

But when asked specifically what he’ll do if he vetoes the budget and lawmakers override the veto, Scott basically said he’ll try again next year.

“I’ll do exactly what I said I’ll do,” he said. “I’ve been completely open on what I ran on. And people agree with me. They care about jobs, they care about education, they care about being safe. And that’s what I work on every day.”

The governor spoke after legislative leadership announced agreement on budget allocations, the large pots of money that go toward funding major areas, such as education and health.

While the Senate largely has sided with Scott, Corcoran for months has lobbed linguistic grenades at the governor, including calling his favored business incentives programs, including the Quick Action Closing fund, “corporate welfare.”

Scott has endorsed a key element of Senate President Joe Negron’s Lake Okeechobee rehabilitation plan: Storing and treating water south of the lake. He has called upon the House and Senate to invest $200 million in repairs to the Herbert Hoover dike.

The state can afford the repairs because the $1.5 billion the Trump administration has provided to reimburse hospitals for charity care has freed up money for elsewhere.

“This is a golden opportunity to get this done,” Scott said Thursday. “It’s an environmental issue and a jobs issue.”

He continued to advocate for VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency, saying he “could not believe legislators don’t understand the value of continuing to market this state.” Fewer tourists mean fewer jobs in the tourist industry, he explained. “I am shocked at anyone who thinks we should cut one dollar from VISIT FLORIDA.”

But Corcoran nearly sued the agency after it refused to disclose a promotional contract it inked with South Florida rapper Pitbull. The artist himself made the case moot by publishing a copy of the contract via Twitter, revealing he was promised a maximum of $1 million.

The speaker also has lambasted a promotional deal with superstar chef/restaurateur Emeril Lagasse for nearly $12 million.

Scott also said the state was losing deals for companies to move to Florida because he didn’t have money in the Quick Action Closing fund, a pot of cash Scott can use with the least input from lawmakers.

“We are still competing with 49 other states,” he said. “They want the jobs there, I want the jobs here. This legislature is turning its back on its constituents.”

Report: State workers to get pay raises, but changes to health benefits could be coming

State workers could get a raise under a proposed budget deal being hashed out by state lawmakers, but it could come at a cost.

The $82.9 billion budget deal is expected to provide an across-the-board raise for state workers — their first in about nine years, according to Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, for whom the raise was a priority.

But according to POLITICO Florida, the Senate has agreed to changes to the state’s health insurance plan and pension plan in exchange for those pay increases.

The health insurance proposal would encompass the changes contained in a House bill (HB 7007) passed earlier this year. The bill allows employees to choose from four different levels of health-insurance beginning in 2020. According to POLITICO Florida, the deal also requires new state employees be placed into a defined contribution plan, similar to a 401(k).

The Senate, in exchange, would receive the $220 million of state worker pay raises outlined in the Senate’s initial budget proposal.

Rick Scott calls proposed cuts to Visit Florida ‘irresponsible’ in new web ad

Gov. Rick Scott is continuing his push for money for Visit Florida, releasing a new digital ad hitting lawmakers over proposals to cut funding for the state’s tourism marketing agency.

In the 60-second spot, released by Scott’s political committee Let’s Get to Work, the Naples Republican is shown saying “Florida’s been winning, now a group of politicians in Tallahassee want us to lose.”

“That’s irresponsible,” he continues. “It’s real simple, if the politicians in Tallahassee say they don’t want to market our state and we lose tourists, then we’re going to lose jobs. The politicians in Tallahassee don’t get it. Ever job is important, every family is important to our state. There is not a job that’s expendable.”

The new digital ad, which was first reported by POLITICO Florida, comes with just eight days left in the 2017 Session. State lawmakers could begin final budget negotiations are early as this afternoon, and the latest deal reportedly funds Visit Florida at $25 million, a more than $50 million cut from the current level.

“If Rick Scott wants to condemn a self-serving Tallahassee politician who’s wasting Floridians’ tax dollars to promote his own political agenda he should look in the mirror,” said David Bergstein, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, about Scott’s new ad. “Throughout his years in Tallahassee Scott has always looked out for only person – himself – while Floridians who actually work for a living are paying the price.”

Scott, who has spent much of the week in Argentina as part of a trade mission, has lashed out at the decision. His office released a memo from Christian Weiss with the Revenue Estimating Conference that suggested the proposed cuts could reduce state revenues by about $210 million. His office also released a letter that Ben Watkins, the director of the Division of Bond Finance, sent to Sen. Jack Latvala and Rep. Carlos Trujillo, which suggested Visit Florida cuts could have “negative impacts on bond ratings across the state.”

The governor is scheduled to meet with 10 state senators — including Latvala and Oscar Braynon, Anitere Flores, Bill Galvano, and Wilton Simpson — today. He also has a meeting with Rep. Scott Plakon on his public schedule.

Budget deal struck, House and Senate leaders appoint conferees

There is a deal.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron announced a settlement Thursday on the major points of difference between their chambers on an $83 million budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, and appointed conference committee members to work out the details.

The conferees were to begin work at 1:30. They have until noon Sunday — any differences remaining at that point would go to Corcoran and Negron to settle.

“I am confident we can produce a final, balanced budget that incorporates the priorities of our constituents,” Negron said in a written statement.

“Over the next few days, we can and we will complete our work in a timely manner that appropriately meets the needs of our growing state and responsibly plans for Florida’s future,” he said.

“The reports of the demise of session have been greatly exaggerated,” Corcoran said.

“We look forward to working with our friends in the Senate to produce a budget that is balanced, provides tax relief, funds critical needs, and preserves the fiscal security of future generations.”

The news of a budget deal came after days of will-they-or-won’t-they over the state’s multi-billion dollar spending plan.

The two chambers appeared to reach a stalemate early this week, after a weekend of negotiations. The House has approved a “standard operating budget,” or contingency budget, adhering mostly to the budget the Legislature approved last year for the existing fiscal year.

But as the week progressed, there was word of movement, with many expecting the House and Senate to unveil an $83 billion budget Tuesday. That afternoon Corcoran said the House was “very, very, very close to having allocations agreed to with the Senate,” and even predicted budget conference would begin that evening. But that proved to be overly optimistic, by late evening Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for Senate President Joe Negron Negron, said there would be no conference.

Budget breakdowns appeared to stall again Wednesday, when another day passed without budget allocations or conference meetings.

The budget framework could give Corcoran and Negron their top priorities while delivering a likely-fatal blow to Enterprise Florida, the public-private economic development organization Gov. Rick Scott wants full funding for.

No budget deal yet, Jack Latvala says

With just days left in the 2017 Legislative Session, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala said Tuesday morning there still isn’t a budget deal.

“There is no budget deal,” the Clearwater Republican said, as of 8:15 a.m.

About 15 minutes later, Latvala tweeted “when an agreement is reached on the budget it will be announced by the President and Speaker.”

Senate President Joe Negron wants to see everything in writing, and sent back the House offer within the last 12 hours with changes he’d still like to see made, said Latvala.

The House and Senate were expected to unveil an $83 billion budget Tuesday. The budget framework was expected to give House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Negron their top priorities while delivering a likely-fatal blow to Enterprise Florida, the public-private economic development organization Gov. Rick Scott wants full funding for.

On Tuesday afternoon, Corcoran said the House was “very, very, very close to having allocations agreed to with the Senate,” and even predicted budget conference would begin that evening. But that proved to be overly optimistic, by late evening Katie Betta, the spokeswoman for Negron, said there would be no conference.

The House has approved a “standard operating budget,” or contingency budget, adhering mostly to the budget the Legislature approved last year for the existing fiscal year.

On Wednesday morning, Kristen M. Clark with the Miami Herald reported Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon told Senate Democrats during their caucus meeting the only thing that is firm is allocations. Everything else, Braynon said, “is in play and it’s stuff we have to vote on.”

Braynon, according to Clark’s report, said he expects conference committee members to be named during the floor session today, and meetings to begin tonight.

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