Constant updates on Florida Legislature’s budget negotiations

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Analysis and running updates to the budget negotiations between the House and the Senate:

Monday – 4:20 p.m. – Denise Grimsley says House has reached a budget agreement with the Senate to end the session on time.

Monday – 1:32 p.m. – A health and human-services budget deal reached Sunday would earmark millions of dollars to local health facilities and programs across the state. In at least a few cases, Gov. Rick Scott appears to have vetoed similar funding decisions last year. One of the biggest-ticket decisions would designate Flagler Hospital in St. Augustine as a “rural hospital.” That designation would translate into an additional $3.4 million for the hospital, which is in an area represented by two influential lawmakers — Sen. John Thrasher and Rep. William Proctor, both St. Augustine Republicans. The deal also would funnel money to such things as local mental-health, substance-abuse and developmental disabilities programs. While documents released Sunday provide few details, it appears that negotiators will try again to get Scott’s approval for some vetoed local projects. For example, Scott last year vetoed $500,000 for the Apopka Family Health Center, and negotiators agreed Sunday to earmark the same amount for “Apopka Family Health.” Similarly, Scott last year vetoed $777,169 that would have gone to the University of Miami for what documents describe as a Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis project. The new deal would set aside $500,000 for a center at the university that specializes in those diseases.

Monday – 1:31 p.m. – Florida Medicaid beneficiaries will face a new limit on the number of times they can visit general physicians each month. A budget deal reached Sunday night includes nearly $3.3 million in savings from such a limit. While documents released Sunday night do not offer details, an earlier House proposal indicated the state could save that amount by limiting non-pregnant adult Medicaid beneficiaries to two physician visits a month. Earlier, negotiators agreed to also limit emergency-room visits for non-pregnant adults to six a year, a move that is estimated to save $46.7 million. The patient advocacy group Florida CHAIN has criticized such proposals, saying they could prevent beneficiaries from seeking needed care. “The consequences of these unjustified changes could be severe and even life threatening,” the group said in an e-mail Friday.

Monday – 8:10 a.m. – Budget negotiators, Senate Budget Chairman JD Alexander and House Chairwoman Denise Grimsley, will continue to meet to today trying to hammer out some education issues, though so far, no official meeting has been set.

Monday – 6:38 a.m. – Tucked in the state’s proposed transportation budget is $5 million to build an emergency operations center in a South-Central Florida county represented by the Legislature’s top budget-writers.

Monday – 6:37 a.m. – A tweak agreed to by budget negotiators late Sunday night will save Flagler Hospital in St. Augustine up to $3.4 million next year.

Monday – 6:35 a.m. – Budget negotiators strike deal on Health & Human Services cuts.

Sunday – 7:53 a.m. – Jefferson Correction Institution will remain open under a deal between the Legislature and the governor’s office, budget negotiators announced Saturday. “We have a clear agreement between the governor, the Department of Corrections, the House and Senate that Jefferson will continue to operate,” Senate Budget Chairman J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said at a meeting with House Appropriations Chairwoman Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring. Alexander was explaining the decision to remove a provision earmarking nearly $10.3 million to keep Jefferson open. A plan by the Department of Corrections to close the prison in rural Jefferson County, which is the county’s leading employer with 177 jobs, caused an uproar in the community that led lawmakers in both chambers to come down against shuttering the facility. However, Alexander and Grimsley decided not to keep Hillsborough Correctional Institution open — another facility some lawmakers wanted to save — to save more than $8.3 million. The deal reached on the prison budget Saturday also recognizes almost $14.1 million in savings from the privatization of inmate health care, despite a lawsuit challenging the health-care plan. “Last time I checked, the constitution doesn’t allow courts to appropriate money,” Alexander said. The pair also agreed to allow Gov. Rick Scott more freedom to use $61.2 million to help bring jobs to the state. “He’s, I think, made good arguments that in his efforts to sell our state and bring quality employers in there, he needed to be able to make commitments faster,” Alexander said. Scott would also be able to ask the Legislative Budget Commission for permission to spend another $25 million in incentives. Some of the larger items still have to be resolved — including disputes over how to divvy up nearly $300 million in cuts to higher education and major portions of the state’s health-care spending plan. Negotiators plan to meet again Sunday.

Saturday – 11:07 a.m. – Water management districts bill “bumped” to budget leaders; most other issues resolved.

Saturday – 9:54 a.m. – Provisions that at least one lawmaker said were not fit for budget-related bills were removed from the transportation and economic development measures during negotiations between the House and Senate on Friday. The House withdrew the language that had upset Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, who was part of a rebellion last year against measures tied to the budget that handled what opponents considered to be substantive issues. Latvala confirmed after the meeting that all the proposals he was concerned about — such as a provision changing the membership of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority’s board — had been removed.

Friday – 12:46 p.m. – Pointing to the chaotic end of the 2011 legislative session, Senate Transportation Chairman Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, warned Friday against putting substantive legal changes into budget “conforming” bills. Latvala made the comments as House and Senate negotiators continued trying to resolve differences in the transportation and economic development portion of the budget. Latvala said five issues from a transportation-policy bill have been proposed to go into a budget conforming bill. As an example, House negotiators Friday proposed including a program aimed at improving transportation facilities to help increase shipping through ports. Conforming bills are supposed to be related to budget issues and offer lawmakers little opportunity for amendments when they go to the House and Senate floors. An attempt to place substantive legal changes in conforming bills last year helped lead to a last-night revolt among some senators, including Latvala. He said Friday he will “very strenuously object” again on the Senate floor if issues such as the transportation proposals end up in a conforming bill. Rep. Mike Horner, a Kissimmee Republican who is the House’s lead negotiator on transportation and economic development budget issues, said the five proposals all have connections to the budget. Also, he said including them in a conforming bill would help ensure they would pass if a transportation-policy bill fails.

Friday – 9:19 a.m. – House budget negotiators proposed a plan Thursday to create a task force to look into how to fund the construction needs of charter schools — potentially defusing an issue that charter supporters have pushed in the face of fierce opposition in the House. Rep. Marti Coley, the Marianna Republican who leads the chamber’s education budget-writing committee, floated the idea at a Thursday evening meeting between House and Senate negotiators. “We do have to figure out how we are going to adequately fund the needs of all of our public schools,” Coley said after the meeting. The move could help resolve a simmering feud over whether to require school districts to share construction money with charter schools. That provision remains in a Senate bill (SB 1852) about charters, but opponents including Coley have repeatedly beat it back in the House version of the measure (HB 903). The House is set to vote on the legislation, which so far still does not have the construction provision, on Friday.

Friday – 8:57 a.m. – Sen. Jack Latvala is warning budget negotiators again on putting major issues in budget conforming bills.

Friday – 7:15 a.m. – House stands ground on economic incentives, road funds

Thursday – 10:02 p.m. – The main sticking points in the higher education budget will move up to negotiations between Senate Budget Chairman JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, and House Appropriations Chairwoman Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring. The House-Senate conference committee taking a first stab at hammering out a deal agreed Thursday evening that it would not be able to resolve some of the highest-profile issues in the spending plan for colleges and universities. Among them: Whether to write into law a plan to convert the University of South Florida’s Lakeland campus into an independent Florida Polytechnic University, a priority of Alexander’s, and how to divvy up almost $300 million in cuts to universities, who would then dip into their reserves to fill the hole.

Thursday – 8:40 p.m. – House and Senate negotiators remained far apart Thursday night on a health- and human-services budget, leaving major questions about funding for hospitals and programs such as mental-health and substance-abuse treatment, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

Thursday – 12:31 p.m. – House and Senate negotiators struck a deal on the state’s education budget Thursday, little more than 24 hours after the first offers were exchanged on the $12.8 billion spending plan. … Any suspense about the agreement largely revolved around provisions to extend the school day for low-performing schools and whether to boost spending on the school-recognition program that was a major initiative of former Gov. Jeb Bush. … Lawmakers had already agreed to plow more than $1 billion new state dollars into elementary and secondary schools — a priority of Gov. Rick Scott, who threatened to veto the measure if the Legislature didn’t approve a significant increase in public education funding for the coming fiscal year. School districts say the money will do little to offset years of cuts and the loss of federal and other funds. … Under the terms of the deal reached Thursday, the budget will include $30 million for extended learning at the 100 lowest-performing elementary schools in the state, a priority for the Senate. Half of that money would be specifically earmarked for reading programs at those schools.

Thursday – 6:10 a.m. – After agreeing Wednesday morning not to increase base tuition at state universities, a House-Senate negotiating committee also found agreement on the boost for state colleges: 5 percent. The talks are part of efforts by lawmakers to bridge their differences over the budget for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1. Students at the 11 state universities are still likely to see increases in their bills thanks to the state’s differential tuition plan; those hikes could hit 15 percent. There are still substantial differences between the chambers on higher education, most notably on whether to write into law a plan for the independence of the University of South Florida’s Lakeland campus — a priority of Senate Budget Chairman JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales.

Thursday – 6:09 a.m. – House and Senate budget negotiators have agreed to spend $30 million next year on Everglades restoration efforts — but do not plan to set aside money for the Florida Forever land-conservation program. Janet Bowman, a lobbyist for The Nature Conservancy, said Wednesday she hopes legislative leaders will find money for Florida Forever as budget talks continue. “I think it’s important to provide funding to send a message that the program is alive,” Bowman said.

Wednesday – 10:57 a.m. – House doesn’t like federal money for doctors: Hours after the legislative session seemed dangerously close to running into overtime, House and Senate leaders announced an agreement on the broad framework of the budget that will allow negotiations to move forward. Prospects had looked bleak early in the day, with House Appropriations Chairwoman Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, saying she was frustrated with the pace of the negotiations. The Senate had responded with a series of bipartisan speeches on the floor supporting Senate leadership in the showdown. But by mid-afternoon, the two sides had reached an agreement; that was followed by early conference sessions late Tuesday evening. Early offers were expected to be exchanged Wednesday morning.

Tuesday – Hours after the legislative session seemed dangerously close to running into overtime, House and Senate leaders announced an agreement on the broad framework of the budget that will allow negotiations to move forward. Prospects had looked bleak early in the day, with House Appropriations Chairwoman Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, saying she was frustrated with the pace of the negotiations. The Senate had responded with a series of bipartisan speeches on the floor supporting Senate leadership in the showdown. But by mid-afternoon, the two sides had reached an agreement; that was followed by early conference sessions late Tuesday evening. Early offers were expected to be exchanged Wednesday morning.

Tuesday – A sticking point between the House and Senate in upcoming budget talks is likely to be the cuts the upper chamber wants to make in Florida’s mental health and substance abuse treatment programs.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.