House and Senate budget negotiators struck a deal on a state spending plan Monday night moments before the stroke of midnight, pouring $301 million into projects at the last minute and closing out one of the more-raucous legislative debates in recent years.
Lawmakers did not exactly know how much the final agreement would add up to, but it is likely to be well more than $76 billion but south of $80 billion. The Legislature is likely to vote on the package Friday, after a mandatory 72-hour "cooling off" period starting when the document is printed. The vote will come 11 days before Florida must have a spending plan in place to avoid a government shutdown.
In a final negotiating session that started about 11:15 p.m. Monday, House Appropriations Chairman Richard Corcoran (R-Land O' Lakes) and Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee (R-Brandon) went through more than 100 pages of offers ranging across the state budget. Included in the documents were the final spending figures for public and higher education, as well as dozens of pages of details that comprise the fine print of the budget.
Also included: $151 million from the House and $150 million from the Senate in "supplemental" or additional funding for initiatives ranging from $6.8 million for school uniforms to $2.4 million for a line item simply titled "springs" to $5 million for the Florida Association Of Free And Charitable Clinics.
Lawmakers also found time to direct $1 million already in the budget to be used "to conduct programs designed to expand uses of beef and beef products and strengthen the market position of the cattle industry in this state and in the nation."
Corcoran called the session "one of the best I've seen in 30 years around this process" during an exchange with reporters after the meeting. He pointed to debates over health-care issues during the special session, which was called to deal with the budget after lawmakers couldn't agree to a spending plan during their annual spring meeting.
"This has been one of the most remarkable sessions for open, transparent debate and fervent positions on both sides, respecting each other, respecting their positions and yet having that debate," Corcoran said. "This is the way government should work."
Lee also defended the last-minute nature of some of the added projects.
"You're just now seeing it, but this has been the product of multiple days of discussions, multiple weeks, two sessions, and the fact that you're just now seeing it doesn't mean there hasn't been a real inclusive process that we followed to get to this place," he said.
But even some lawmakers were left trying to keep up with the flurry of offers as the House and Senate rushed to complete their work. Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) said the process for the final agreement needed to be slowed down.
"Just the mechanics of trying to keep up with what comes in front of you is difficult for people who have some knowledge about the process and, God forbid, people who don't have any knowledge about it, then they're lost," she told reporters.
The special session started June 1 and could run through Saturday if needed. The state's new fiscal year starts July 1. After lawmakers approve the budget, Gov. Rick Scott can use his line-item veto power to eliminate spending items.
© 2015 The News Service of Florida. All rights reserved. Posting or forwarding this material without permission is prohibited.