Legislative budget negotiators begin work

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House and Senate leaders struck a deal Thursday on the broad outlines of a budget for the coming fiscal year and began the difficult process of hammering out the details, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.

Both sides painted the agreement as a striking contrast to recent years, when a lack of money and, later, a lack of trust between the House and Senate led to late allocations and last-minute scrambles to get the budget done on time. In 2009, lawmakers were forced to extend the session by a week to finish their work.

“I think we can do this in a way that is unlike what we’ve done in recent history, where we don’t have to wait ’til the last minute, we can do allocations on time and early, we can finish the budget on time, and we can show the people of Florida that we can be adults and we can do this the right way and be proud of the end result,” said House Speaker Will Weatherford in remarks to the first formal conference committee meeting.

“My recollection is that allocations were originated and developed and negotiated and agreed upon earlier this year than at any time in the last four years,” added Senate President Don Gaetz.

Helping matters was the fact that, for the first time in years, budget-writers are working with a surplus instead of a shortfall. Negotiations were not focused so much on what to cut, but where to increase the spending plan for the year beginning July 1 — and by how much.

The area-by-area breakdowns from the House and Senate released Thursday would devote more to education than the House originally planned, but less than the Senate, and more to health care and other human services than the Senate had initially intended, but less than the House.

House Appropriations Chairman Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, said reserves ended up around $2.6 billion to $2.7 billion — slightly closer to the House position than the Senate version.

Negotiating committees set to handle individual areas of the budget are expected to begin meeting Friday. They will have until Tuesday evening to reach any deals they can make before McKeel and Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, take over.

As of Thursday evening, though, both sides said they were well on the way to reaching an agreement.

“I think that we negotiated a budget framework that allows both the House and the Senate to pursue their priorities,” Negron said.

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.