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Late-night deal reached on a nearly $70 billion spending plan

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From the Florida Current: House and Senate budget negotiators racing against the clock reached a deal late Monday night on a nearly $70 billion spending plan.

The last-minute agreement means that state lawmakers will be able to end the 2010 session on time.

The final deal came amid a flurry of last-minute changes, including a decision to spare state libraries from budget cuts, an agreement to offer help to financially ailing Jackson Memorial Hospital and a boost of $50 million for Everglades restoration. Jackson Memorial will get a total of $50 million if Miami-Dade officials agree to carry a management review of the financial condition of the hospital.

Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, and Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, reached a final deal of public school spending that will increase per-student funding by $1.22. The two budget chiefs also agreed in the waning moments to set aside money for a handful of projects sprinkled across the state, including $15.5 million for a Florida A&M University project in Crestview that is a top priority for Sen. Durrell Peaden.

Budget negotiators also set aside $3 million for a center at Florida International University and $400,000 to the Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government at the University of Central Florida, which will use the money to expand and bring online a civic mentor-teacher program.

The budget chiefs agreed to keep state library funding at its current levels and they agreed to scale back a proposed nursing home reimbursement rate cut from 7 percent to 5 percent, although that is contingent on receiving additional federal money from Congress.

Most of the money targeted for Everglades restoration – $40 million of it – is also contingent upon Congress extending a higher federal matching rate for Medicaid that is now set to expire at the end of the year.

The budget agreement reached late Monday comes months after lawmakers were first told that the state had a gaping $3.2 billion budget hole for the coming year.

That gap was filled in numerous ways, including a decision to sweep nearly $600 million out of various trust funds, including $160 million from the state’s road-building fund. The state is also getting more than $400 million from a gambling compact reached with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

The rest of the gap was filled by budget cuts, such as slashing the reimbursement rates to hospitals, or relying on close to $40 million that will come from a new proposal that will let cities and counties install red light cameras to catch scofflaws.

The final exchange of budget offers came after Rivera flew up and back to Washington D.C. for a fundraiser for his congressional campaign. Rivera, however, denied that the late night session was influenced by his schedule. He said that budget staff were busy working on final details and that his final meeting with Alexander could not have been scheduled any earlier. Rivera said his campaign paid for him to charter a flight to and from Tallahassee.

Rivera and Alexander earlier on Monday had reached agreement on other parts of the budget, including a decision to spare state workers a pay cut. But they did agree that roughly 27,000 employees who don’t pay anything for health insurance should pay a minimal amount in the coming year.

While the House and Senate have now closed out negotiations on spending, they still plan to discuss provisions that can be included in conforming bills that accompany the final budget.

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.

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