Florida legislators tried over the weekend to hammer out budget decisions on everything from hospital spending to money for Everglades restoration.
But as they slogged through spreadsheets, proviso language and dollar amounts fault lines quickly developed between the House and Senate over everything from member-backed projects, education policy and whether to borrow money to pay for land acquisition and other environmental projects.
Some legislators had been hopeful that they could reach a deal on the budget by the end of the second-week of the special session. That scenario, however, would require quick resolution of a lot of policy issues including:
- Whether to borrow money in order to come up with additional cash to spend on land acquisition and Everglades restoration. “B-O-N-D is a four letter word,’’ explained Sen. Alan Hays, the Republican in charge of the Senate committee that oversees environmental spending. But that viewpoint isn’t shared by House leaders who argue that low interest rates make it a perfect time to borrow money.
- Whether the $400 million in state money taken out of tax cuts and placed into Medicaid rate reimbursements will be enough to soften the loss of federal aid to hospitals.
- Whether House and Senate leaders can reach a deal on a long host of education policy ideas being pushed in the budget conference by Sen. Don Gaetz. These include everything from changing Bright Futures college scholarship requirements to changing policy for how colleges approve new degree programs.
Normally budget conferences follow the protocol of where dozens of routine items are settled and only a handful of major items are left to be decided by the budget chairmen, the Senate President and House Speaker.
That may not be the case this year. House and Senate leaders have already battled over Medicaid expansion and tax cuts.
Hays himself warned lobbyists, reporters and others that even if he and the House reach a deal on environmental spending it could all be rejected by those above in the legislative food chain.
“Everything in this budget is subject to change,” Hays said.