It’s only Week 2 of Session, and already appropriations lobbyists are wringing their hands.
A bit of budget intel circulated Wednesday morning that the Speaker’s Office had released allocations for member projects and the numbers were, well, worse than expected. Allocations, for the as-yet uninitiated, are the big chunks of state money that go to each budget subcommittee to fund the various parts of state government.
House communications director Fred Piccolo quickly nipped the rumor in the bud: “No allocations have been released” by House Speaker José Oliva and Appropriations Committee chair Travis Cummings.
Piccolo did add, “Subcommittee chairs have been informed that the Speaker envisions the budget produced by the House to reduce spending per capita. Member projects would obviously be a part of that discussion.” (Per capita means on average for each state resident.)
That led to a round of buzz from some members of the lobby corps, who agreed to talk on background.
“I wouldn’t read too much into it,” said one. “Look, this is the usual early-Session posturing, combined with the House’s desire to roll out the more conservative spending plan.”
Another said: “Did they (the appropriations subcommittee chairs) think Oliva was fooling them? I mean, the writing’s been on the wall.”
Indeed, it has, on both sides of the rotunda, with Senate budget chief Rob Bradley warning of a “very tight” budget this year. Oliva has been less dire, not quite saying that the proverbial teeth of the comb will get even finer.
“We’re looking at everything and making sure that everything can justify its existence,” Oliva told reporters last week. “And what we’re finding … is that we’re going to find plenty of dollars to be able to still fund (existing) priorities and still come in and do low per capita” spending.
“We’re trying to make sure that we do is spend less money per resident than we did last year,” he added.
The lobbyists, for right now, expect that the House won’t count any of the money coming from the Seminole Tribe, the state’s cut of its gambling revenue. The Senate will count it as “non-recurring.” Since the beginning of the current fiscal year, for example, the Tribe has paid nearly $69 million, according to state records.
And with major bank certain to be held back for areas still trying to recover from last October’s Hurricane Michael, a third lobbyist mused that “this will be the biggest ‘trade-bait’ Session there’s been in years.”
Then again, he added, “maybe I’ll be proven wrong. Maybe principle will prevail … Gee, do you think?”