Bipartisan Senate OKs budget, adds more 'turkeys'
The Florida Senate passed a $71 billion Thursday with bipartisan support after Republicans agreed to Democratic moves to save a rural prison from closure and to spend $1 million more to keep elderly people out of nursing homes. The bipartisan harmony was a smooth counterpoint to a week in which the Senate has been gripped by a tense behind-the-scenes struggle over future leadership posts.
The vote was 33-6. Republicans Paula Dockery and Steve Oelrich and four Democrats voted no and Democrat Bill Montford didn't vote. The Senate budget makes more reductions to adult mental health and substance abuse, increases tuition at colleges by 3 percent and allows state universities to raise tuition by 15 percent. Gov. Rick Scott opposes tuition increases.
The vote sets up negotiations with the House over the next 10 days to seek a budget compromise to bring the 2012 session to a timely end by March 9.
Senators stuffed the budget with a last-minute batch of local projects or "turkeys," several in Miami-Dade. They include $500,000 for the Bay of Pigs Museum, $150,000 for a historical log cabin in Biscayne Park and $100,000 for Family Empowerment and Intervention Family Meeting Nights in North Miami. Also added was $1 million for a World Class International Regatta Sports Center in Sarasota, which Scott vetoed last year.
"I'm just bothered by some of these ... We're broke," said Oelrich who likened the projects to the notorious Alaskan "Bridge to Nowhere" in Congress. He said the projects should be funded locally. Dockery also voted no, saying it was irresponsible for senators to spend millions on projects while cutting state aid to universities by nearly 6 percent.