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House and Senate close out health care, general gov’t budget silos

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In a swift 15-minute meeting Thursday night, the full bicameral Budget Conference Committee closed out all remaining differences in the chambers’ massive health care and general government budget silos, swapping tens of millions of dollars and making significant progress towards reconciling their respective $80-plus billion proposals.

“We could go huddle up for 30 seconds and come back but we knew we were close, so we just thought we’d cut to the chase,” said committee Vice Chairman Sen. Tom Lee, the Senate’s chief budget writer.

“Plus [reporter GaryFineout harasses us in the huddle and we didn’t want that,” jokingly added Chairman Rep. Richard Corcoran, Lee’s House counterpart.

The House proposed more than $10 million overall more in its “bump” offer than the Senate’s original position for Medicaid funding and proviso language, which the Senate accepted.

The Senate offered nearly $608 million in Low Income Pool funding to be distributed to state hospitals via a complex formula, plus more than $20 million dollars less than the House’s previous offer for natural resources and general government line items, which the House accepted.

The Senate agreed to jettison $7.5 million for dispersed water storage for the South Florida Water Management District it had originally insisted on.

The House, meanwhile, agreed to issue up to $25 million in bonds to service debt for sewage treatment and disposal in the Florida Keys, among other myriad issues.

Another sticking point resolved was a House stance that no state-administered funds should go towards women’s clinics like Planned Parenthood, which they backed off of amid the back-and-forth.

“Just part of the negotiation,” said Corcoran, hours after the House passed a bill that would restrict access to abortions by increasing requirements on clinics that provide the procedure. “There was no deal or anything on it.”

Corcoran noted that no state money funds abortion, and that only a relatively small sum in federal funds – about $250,000 – flows to such clinics in Florida in any case.

Though the move signals a willingness to compromise, major possible stumbling blocks remain, especially in the education budget silo.

Lee told issuing bonds for new school construction was “an option,” but the more conservative House and Gov. Rick Scott have historically been averse to it.

The budget “big chairs” said they would most likely not meet Friday morning, but indicated they intend to plan to move “as fast as we possibly can” to close out their chambers’ remaining differences.

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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