Difference emerge on budgets as plans move towards votes

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With the House and Senate both preparing to vote on plans to close a $3.75 billion budget shortfall by the end of this week, attention was quickly turning to differences the two chambers would have to negotiate when conference committees start meeting next month, reports Brandon Larrabee and Lilly Rockwell of the News Service of Florida. Grabbing much of the attention Tuesday was a proposal in the Senate to save tens of millions of dollars with a broad prison privatization push that would include prisons across essentially the southern third of the state. The House proposal is more modest, privatizing prisons in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Senate Budget Chairman J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said the proposal could save as much as $70 million. But Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich, D-Weston, criticized the method of pushing the proposal through. ? think it? particularly egregious when you put something into a budget and don? give people the opportunity to have a substantive discussion in a committee about the issue,?Rich said Tuesday. ?nything that has that kind of price tag is subject to being considered by the budget committee,?Alexander said. Rep. Rich Glorioso, the Plant City Republican who oversees the House corrections budget, said his chamber would likely be open to a wider privatization plan. ?e?e open to good, solid decision-making with privatization,?Glorioso said. ?f it can be done cheaper and safe and more efficient, it makes sense. The key is, ?s safe.? Also on the table: A Senate proposal to privatize prison medical services statewide. The upper chamber included that plan, and $75 million in savings from it. Glorioso said he was open to the notion. The difference between the two chambers on K-12 education is relatively modest. The per-student spending in the Senate plan would come in at $6,388, a drop of 6.2 percent from last year. The House wants to spend $6,349 per student, a 6.8 percent cut. Though that? the lowest in per-student funding in many years, lawmakers cautioned that the numbers are skewed because of the assumed impact of requiring employees to contribute toward the Florida Retirement System, essentially taking that amount of pensions spending off the books. Both budgets cut programs dealing with mentorship, teacher training and awards and public broadcasting, but neither is as stringent as Scott? proposed education budget, which included a 10 percent cut in education funding. The plans do differ significantly in their treatment of new construction projects in the state university system. The Senate budget provided funding for eight new construction projects across the state university system, from a physics classroom building that would cost $7.8 million at The University of Central Florida, to a new school of pharmacy at the University of South Florida with a price tag of $10 million. In total, the Senate wants to restore $80 million for new construction projects. These projects were approved by the Legislature last year but vetoed by former Gov. Charlie Crist. The House does not include funding for new construction, only $44.8 million for repairs and maintenance. The Senate includes a similar amount for repairs and maintenance, plus the money for new construction. In a letter to the State University System Board of Governors, Chancellor Frank Brogan said ?t a time when funding is particularly scarce,?the system was gratified to receive money for repairs and new construction. The proposals also include wide differences in health and human services. Overall, the House would spend $29.2 billion in the six agencies included in the health- and human-services budget, about $800 million more than the Senate proposal. Both proposals would rely heavily on cutting hospital and nursing-home Medicaid rates to balance the budgets. For example, the Senate would cut hospital rates by about $438 million, while the House would reduce them about $298 million. The Senate also plans to dramatically shrink the Medically Needy program, which provides care for people who have catastrophic illnesses but do not meet the regular qualifications for Medicaid. The Senate would stop paying hospital and drug costs for medically needy patients in April 2012, though it would continue paying for physician services. That move would save about $230 million next fiscal year. In another major difference, the House would eliminate $50 million for biomedical research conducted at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa and other facilities. The Senate would continue funding the research, though it would change how the money is distributed. And one of the usual differences is back, with the House proposing to raid the State Transportation Trust Fund for $330 million. House Transportation and Economic Development Subcommittee Chairman Mike Horner has said that the sweep is in line with Gov. Rick Scott? recommendations for transportation funding, but conceded it would still trigger some delays in the Department of Transportation? five-year work plan. The Senate has long featured bipartisan support for maintaining transportation funding, contending that it creates jobs. Both Rich and Alexander said Tuesday they oppose sweeping the fund, though the budget chairman refused to rule out being forced to do so in conference. ? don? want to,?he said. ? think it? a terrible policy.?]>

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.