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Budget conferees begin weekend of negotiations

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House and Senate budget writers met Friday night to organize the 2016 Budget Conference process. They plan to meet through the weekend as they negotiate how to reconcile the $1 billion gulf between their spending plans as they allocate taxpayers’ money to keep Florida’s government running.

Rep. Richard Corcoran, House budget chief, said after the meeting that the Florida Enterprise fund – money to be used to attract jobs to the state and a major priority of Gov. Rick Scott – is currently “at zero.”

As far as tax cuts, Corcoran’s counterpart Sen. Tom Lee said the two chambers have agreed so far to trim $400 million, $200 million in recurring funds and $200 million nonrecurring funds, though he stressed that the figure isn’t final.

That falls well short of the $1 billion in tax cuts Scott promised before the 2016 Legislative Session began. It’s become the governor’s mantra as he travels the state.

Corcoran also said that to pay for school construction there’s “a willingness” to issue bonds,” but that it too is subject to negotiation.

Corcoran and Senate Budget Chairman Tom Lee have instructed subcommittee chairmen to “bump” all unsettled budget issues back up to them – the “big chairs,” lead budget writers – by 6 p.m. Monday. That’s the earliest possible time and date, giving budget conferees just 72 hours to sort out $1 billion in differences between the House and Senate budget proposals.

The Conference Committee on Government Operations Appropriations/General Government Appropriations will meet Saturday morning at 9 a.m., while the Conference Committee on Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations/General Government Appropriations will meet Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m.

Plans for the Conference Committee on House Health Care Appropriations/Senate Health & Human Services Appropriations to meet at 7 p.m. Friday were cancelled.

Lee nominated Corcoran chairman of the joint budget committee as a formality, and Corcoran nominated Lee vice-chairman.

Lawmakers for the most part still wore jackets and pantsuits at the evening’s end of the workweek. That’s been known to change over the weekend of the annual budget conference, though, as exposed arms and even legs become the norm.

Jackie Schutz, Scott’s communications director, issued his reaction to the news that lawmakers  eviscerated his budget priorities:

“With the Legislature’s action today, there will no longer be incentive funding for major projects to come to Florida, like Northrop Grumman or Navy Federal Credit Union, and we are beginning the process of notifying cities across the state that there would be no funding available to help them recruit businesses if the Legislature does not take immediate action to reverse course. We will continue to monitor the process in the event there are any last-minute adjustments.”

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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