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House prepares for vote on state’s $82 billion budget

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The Florida House rallied behind the Legislature’s proposed budget Thursday, teeing up the $82.3 billion spending plan up for a vote later this week.

State lawmakers debated the budget, shrugging off a structured debate format that has been used in recent years. The reason? Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle appeared to support the budget.

“I think we need to notice this historic moment,” said Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, a Tallahassee Democrat. “I have a feeling we’re going to have more unanimity than we have had in the past. I think we all lost a little bit in this budget, but we’ve all gained a little bit in this budget.”

The vote is designed to send a message to Gov. Rick Scott, who vetoed millions from the state budget in 2015.

This year Republican leaders shot down Scott’s push to include $250 million for business incentives in the budget. They also significantly cut his proposed $1 billion tax package, which now stands at about $129 million.

“We have a bicameral and bipartisan budget in front of us, and it’s on time. I think that’s very important, and I think that’s what we should be doing every year,” said Democratic Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez of Miami. “If you were to try to find the single-most important factor as to why we are doing this week, it’s because we have a governor who refuses to govern. I think that has enabled us to cross party lines, to cross Senate chambers, to cross ideologies to really dig in and do the work.”

Rodriguez scolded Scott’s actions, saying the governor “governs by news release with surprise vetoes, with vengeful vetoes.”

Some Republican lawmakers came to Scott’s defense, including Rep. Neil Combee, who said Scott’s policies helped support the state’s economic recovery.

“I think Rick Scott is a good man, and not only is Rick Scott a good man, but he is a fine governor,” Combee said. “It is Rick Scott’s policies … that have created one of the best environments when it comes to job growth.”

The Florida Senate has not yet begun discussions on the budget. Lawmakers are expected to vote on the budget Friday. The budget was delivered to lawmakers at 2:53 p.m., Tuesday. State law requires the budget must be finished 72 hours before a vote.

The Associated Press and reporter Ryan Ray contributed to this report.

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