The proposed House budget looked to put more than $19 million for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services on hold.
The final budget, however, lacks such a provision.
The problem was gas pump stickers with Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried‘s image.
Fried had authorized 120,000 stickers with her face on them for pumps, a move decried as “political advertisement” by the Republican House Speaker.
The House looked to hold in suspense $15.4 million in salaries and an additional $2.3 million in expenses, along with $746,011 in contracted services, $429,564 in risk management insurance and $214,282 in operating capital outlay.
Unless the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services removed all gas pump stickers with Commissioner Fried‘s face, the department would have lost its funding beginning July 1 if the House plan prevailed.
The Department of Agriculture has been replacing more labels adorned with the face of the elected official. New stickers still have Fried’s name and office number, but no picture of her.
Of course, the changeover to mug-free inspection labels has been going on gradually across the state. It’s unclear how far along in the process the Department of Agriculture is in transitioning to a Fried-face-free tag on pumps.
Agriculture Commissioners have adorned gas station inspection stickers with their own names for decades. But Fried was the first to put a color photograph of herself smiling at Floridians as they pump their gas.
The final budget looks a bit different, though, with no such qualifiers regarding the funds being suspended, as well as an additional $1.4 million dollars for consumer protection.
While the Senate wants the stickers removed, budget chair Rob Bradley says there is “no salary at issue” as there is in fact a “plan.”
“Stickers need to be removed by Sept. 30,” Bradley said. “It’s been represented by the Department that this is the plan anyway.”
The implementing bill memorializes that plan, but without a penalty attached.
Withholding funds was a non-starter for the Senate, as budget chair Rob Bradley made clear soon after the House proposal became known.
“I’m not a big fan of the stickers in the present form, but my goodness. If the biggest thing we’re dealing with is stickers then there’s not much going on,” Bradley said.
“The fact of the matter [is] there’s a lot of things going on,” he continued, “and that’s not something that’s an incredibly important issue for the people of the state of Florida.”
Fried contends attacks on her office are “part of a larger plan to … subvert democracy” by giving “unchecked power to the Governor.”
“This could hold up food and fair ride inspections and stop consumer watchdogs from doing their jobs — risking the health and safety of people across the state,” she tweeted in January.
“This could put lives and careers at risk. And it’s all because of some stickers. It’s juvenile, petty and pathetic.”
Fried quietly won another battle, retaining the Office of Energy in her department.
Republicans in the House had sought to move it to the Department of Environmental Protection, but that proposal was abandoned when Bradley and Cummings negotiated budget terms last week.
Florida Politics reporters Jacob Ogles and Drew Wilson contributed to this post.
March 16, 2020 at 7:52 pm
This was partisan foolishness to begin with.
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