The House and Senate were tantalizingly close Wednesday to completing negotiations on an $83 billion state budget. It appeared only a question of firming up some details and completing the paperwork.
“There’s a tremendous amount of work that goes into preparing the document and getting it distributed and printed and whatever. But the major points are decided,” Senate budget chief Jack Latvala said following a noon meeting with his House counterpart, Carlos Trujillo.
“Mostly the HHS budget, and then some various implementing and proviso kind of situations. But we’re a long way down the road,” Latvala said.
Earlier in the day, Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced their intention to distribute a budget bill to members on Friday, go home over the weekend, and extending for a short session Monday on the budget only.
The Legislature will miss its Friday deadline for completing a budget.
Working late on Tuesday night, the presiding offers settled the major remaining disputes.
“We appreciate the amount of time and effort the Senate’s put in and the amount of compromise that we’ve made in order to pass a responsible budget,” Trujillo said during the meeting Wednesday.
“It should be apparent to all of you that we’re now into gear. We’ve made a tremendous amount of progress today, which hopefully will continue,” Latvala said.
The House and Senate have agreed in principle to restore $50 million of a possible $600 million in cuts to reimbursements to hospitals for treating Medicaid — or $120 million, counting federal matching funds.
“We haven’t got the paper and exchanged the offers, but the commitment is there to settle that,” Latvala said.
There’s no money for the Florida Forever land acquisition program next year — it was sacrificed, Latvala said, to the House demand for a larger rainy day fund, now at $1.2 billion.
“As the father of Florida Forever, as the person who passed that bill, I’m obviously disappointed to have a year when I’m Appropriations chairman and not be able to fund it,” he said.
“But it you look at the totality of our budget, and look at what we’re doing for Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades, springs, Lake Apopka, the St. Johns River, beaches … I believe you’re going to probably find there’s more money in this budget for the environment than we’ve had in a long time.
“If buying raw land suffers for a year, so be it. Next year, I’ll try to fix that.”
Negron’s Lake Okeechobee restoration plan, sent to the governor Tuesday, also represents a major environmental investment, he said.
“It’s going to be spent for land buying. It’s just down there. It’s not timberland in North Florida.”
The House accepted Senate language allowing the state to use $1.5 billion made available by the federal government to reimburse hospitals for charity care unless both chambers agree.
The House agreed to pay nursing home residents $105 per month to spend on sundries — House leaders had wanted to reduce that to $70.
“The Senate considers that a big win. I don’t know why that should be a big issue,” Latvala said.
There’s $50 million for beach restoration, up from $30 million now. The House has not agreed to an emergency renourishment fund.