Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala‘s office would take a much smaller budget hit this year under a compromise worked out by state Sen. Randolph Bracy and Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala Tuesday.
Both the Florida Senate and the Florida House of Representatives have been pursuing budget proposals that would have cut at least $1.3 million from the budget of Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s office, though for different stated reasons.
Ayala is the embattled state attorney there, whose decision in March to not pursue death penalty prosecutions has led to a political firestorm. That has included some retaliatory responses, including from Gov. Rick Scott and several Central Florida House members, and proposed cuts in funding to her office.
Scott stripped 23 first-degree murder cases from her office and reassigned them to the 5th Judicial Circuit. State Rep. Scott Plakon of Altamonte Springs engineered the House cut of about $1.3 million, to transfer that money to the the 5th Judicial Circuit, which is set to get the cases Scott reassigned from Ayala.
Bracy, of Oakland, is one of the few Democrats who have actively come to Ayala’s aid
Under the arrangement agreed to by Bracy and Latvala, $569,000 of the proposed Senate cut would be restored, while $622,000 would be transferred to the office of the 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King.
“It’s what Latvala and I agreed to,” Bracy stated in a text to FloridaPolitics.com. “It’s 45 percent of the $1.3 million that was cut will go to the 9th Circuit. 55 percent will go to the 5th.”
In another text, Latvala, the Republican from Clearwater, confirmed the deal and that he would support it on the floor.
Expect no such deal on the House side, so the matter is likely to head to conference committee.
“My team recommended the $1.3 million because we thought that was the right number,” Plakon said. “Anything different from that will have to be worked out in conference.”
And he said he stood by the validity of the $1.3 million cut for several reasons. First, it’s approximately what the office got as extra money in a special appropriation awarded last year, so Plakon said it would make sense to roll that back. He also argued that the $1.3 million is being identified as money needed to prosecute death penalty cases, which are typically extremely expensive, and which Ayala has announced she would not do. So the House proposal would authorize the Judicial Administration Commission to decide which state attorneys most need the money. And third, Ayala’s office still has a number of open positions – Plakon cited references to 60, while Ayala’s office said last week the number was 33 and dropping.
Plakon said he believes the 60 to be accurate, but noted that either number is greater than the 21 positions in the proposed cut, “So she wouldn’t need those funds.”