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The week ahead in Florida politics

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At the state Capitol this week the budget begins to take shape and Rep. Richard Corcoran increasingly becomes the man to watch. By the end of the week the Senate will have released its budget allocation and Corcoran and Sen. Tom Lee, the two chambers’ appropriation chairs, will move closer to center stage as a spending plan begins to take shape.

The House released its allocations, the amount of money dedicated to each spending silo; education, health care, etc., last week. The document left untouched $2.5 billion of the $30.3 billion economists say will be in the general revenue fund come July 1.

Corcoran and Speaker Steve Crisafulli have budgeted enough of, let’s say discretionary money, to pay for Gov. Rick Scott’s tax cuts and fill the $1.3 billion hole created by the Tallahassee/Washington dispute over a hospital reimbursement program (the infamous LIP).

But that doesn’t take into account the House’s commitment to savings – stashing $1.5 billion in the reserve fund last year – and politicians need to bring home the bacon; funding local projects.

And although Sen. Tom Lee might see the fun money as a way to fill the LIP gap, the House hasn’t stated how it intends to spend health dollars – only how much it intends to spend. Lee wants answers on the health care budget before taking up any big-ticket items. Its HHS Committee is preparing a response and it is to expand insurance coverage in a way to draw down about an additional $5 billion in Affordable Care Act money.

This will provide Corcoran an opportunity to reprise his role from two years ago when he shot down the Senate’s expansion proposal, the so-called Negron Plan.

While editorials and critics called the House stance hypocritical, Corcoran delivered a floor speech identifying failings in the Medicaid system – all but calling expansion a false promise – and urging lawmakers to come up with a better solution; one not yet imagined, invoking JFK and the start of the space program.

Expanding coverage is shaping up to be the “cornerstone” of the Senate budget proposal, according to Sen. Bill Galvano.

Speaker Crisafulli has said the House has “no plans” to discuss expansion this session. Sen. Lee wants LIP resolved before building a budget, and Corcoran, with whom Lee will negotiate a budget sees no problems.

“All this hysteria because one guy said LIP won’t exist,” said Corcoran, who like Gov. Scott said there is no relationship between LIP and expansion. Although the additional $5 billion would seem to help solve some issues.

As the process moves forward, Corcoran and Lee’s roles will grow. Corcoran cleanly handled the Negron plan in 2013 and this year the Senate has called on one of its former presidents to try to get an expansion plan pasy him. The future Speaker and the former President are starting to move their pieces into place for budget negotiations.

Also Monday, the Senate Commerce will consider Sen. Jack Latvala’s proposal to allow the 64-ounce growler and relaxing regulations on brewers. The Senate Criminal Justice will hear safety concerns from Corrections workers, and the Senate Finance Committee will discuss Sen. Dorothy Hukill’s communications tax cut.

Tuesday the House Agriculture Committee and the House Health Care Appropriations Committee discuss their budget proposals.   The Senate HHS Committee will take up SB 7004, the proposal to expand health coverage. And, the Senate General Government Committee will discuss land management with DEP and FWC. This could quickly turn into a budget-related meeting; land management talk could enter into land buying which might open the door to talking about how to spend Amendment 1 money.

 A Senate panel will take up claims bills, including one for the survivors of a Florida State football player who died after a work out. And Tuesday is FSU Day at the Capitol, later at the university John Thrasher will be inaugurated as the school’s president.

The Senate goes into session Wednesday, taking up a proposal to move the Presidential Primary to March 15, hopefully boosting the chances of a favorite son nominee or, at the very least, increasing Florida’s relevancy in the selection process.

The Senate will also take up Sen. Jeff Brandes’ measure to relax the concealed weapons law during evacuations. SB 290 would allow citizens without a concealed-weapons license to carry a concealed weapon during the first 48 hours after an emergency evacuation.

In committee meetings, Senate Appropriations will discuss the package of bills implementing Amendment 1 by setting aside a pot of money for land and water conservation, while Senate Regulated Industries will consider a repeal of a regulation requiring liquor stores to be a stand-alone facility; allowing consumers to pick up Jim Beam and ice cream at one stop.

And the next time you are at the state Capitol and have some time to spare wander a couple of blocks north to the public library for an exhibit on the late Gov. Leroy Collins. Here’s a Gerald Ensley’s story about Collins and one of the many reasons Tallahasseans named their library in his honor.

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