House Speaker Cannon talks budget, Brody and working with Gov. Scott
House Speaker Dean Cannon said there is no reason lawmakers should delay passage of the 2012-13 budget beyond the regular legislative session -- not even to factor in sharper revenue projections available in mid-March.
The latest estimates for next year's shortfall are between $1.2 billion and $2 billion. On top of an election year, lawmakers next session must deal with the once-a-decade redistricting process and more buget cuts. Still, Cannon said he was confident the Legislature could handle its redistricting and appropriations duties by the end of the 60-day session on March 9.
"I've seen nothing to indicate that there's a likelihood that our revenue picture will be substantially and unexpectedly much better by delaying two months, and therefore I see no reason not to act on the information we've got," Cannon told reporters Monday. "If it turns out that, wonderfully, there is a surprising injection of a half a billion dollars in revenue by May, I'm sure we can come up with a special session and figure out how to appropriate that money."
Reporters asked Cannon about other topics, including prison privatization, court funding and claims bills pushed by Senate President Mike Haridopolos. Here's a summary of the discussion.
Which programs are poised for more cuts?
"I think there's probably no major policy area that won't see reductions, and the decisions about how and in what way, that's the work of Chair (Denise) Grimsley and the other appropriations chairman (Sen. JD Alexander) to work on."
Is there a possibility that you'll try to address the prison privatization issue in statute this year?
"Too soon to tell. It does appear to be a priority of the Senate's. Given the restricted bandwidth of the election-year session, reapportionment and the budget difficulties, I don't know whether we would address that. We'll have to make that call when we get closer to regular session."
Are you willing to indulge Senate President Mike Haridopolos and expedite consideration of claims bills for Eric Brody and William Dillon?
"I didn't say they weren't a priority of ours. I said our first priority is the budget, our second priority is general law, and tertiary would be concerns for individual claims bills. Because these are a priority of the Senate president's, we're absolutely interested in ... accomodating his priorities when we can, but that includes all of them, whether they be appropriations, general policy or claims bills."
What is your opinion of the wish of Sen. John Thrasher that both sides of the Brody dispute will finally settle instead of rely on the Legislature passing the claim?
"I think Sen. Thrasher is a very wise man and that's good advice."
"What do you think about taxing online sales, a priority of the Florida Retail Federation and other businesses?
"I think there's a balance between the legitimate concerns expressed by brick-and-mortar retailers, legitimate philosophical concerns with attempting to regulate Internet commerce, and the fact that until there's a national rule that standardizes how that's handled, I see the complexity of that issue making it an uphill battle. Again, not foreclosing anything, I'm just saying that there's a lot of moving parts and a lot of legitimate philosophical and political concerns about those things, so again we'll have to see how the committee process works as we move into session."
Do you see any need to revisit HB1355, last year's controversial elections reform package?
"Personally I don't, but if individual members file bills or if folks propose things from the executive branch or other things, we'll let the process handle it."
Is the idea of destination resorts a huge lift in this kind of session?
"The size and complexity of that issue, and given how many different interests there are, is a challenge for the proponents, given the fact that it's an election year, given the fact that it's a bad budget year, etc. But again I'm trying to be consistent and not express opinions early on about the likelihood of success or failure of that. I've never philosophically been in favor of the expansion of gaming. I've heard that there are arguments that one could allow destination resorts and otherwise constrain gaming so as to result in a net reduction, but I'm skeptical about a bill that did that passing both the House and Senate."
Court reform was such a big issue for you last session but now it's not on the radar. Why is that?
"I wouldn't say it's nowhere to be found. I would say I'm very pleased with the proposed court reform measures that will be on the ballot in 2012 and I don't have any personal desire to propose any other reforms that would involve changing the Constitution, so the idea of a criminal and a civil division on the Supreme Court, etc. I do think that there are probably some statutory things that I can hope I can work with the bench and the Bar in considering, but given the limited bandwidth of this session, that's not a major priority and I don't expect it to consume a great amount of focus during the session."
What's your take on finding stable revenue sources for the courts?
"It's something that definitely can be made better, and I hope we can provide a degree of budgeting that is more predictable and less volatile for the courts. I think it's important to remember though that we are the appropriating branch ... and that we not confuse stable, thoughtful budgeting with some sort of guarantee of certain levels of funding. Those are different concepts and they tend to get co-mingled a lot. ... It's too soon to tell what the final modifications to that system might look like, but I want to work with them on that. I think that's a valid area that we can improve."
What do you think about Gov. Scott's priorities (reforms to corporate taxes, Citizens Property Insurance, the Hurricane Catastrophe fund)?
"There's no proposal or goal of the governor's that he's identified for this coming session that I have found reason to disagree with yet. I think we may have a different take or approach about how to do some of those things, but he's been great to work with. I think his goals are all the right, big-picture goals that the leader of the executive branch out to have, and definitely looking forward to working with him to try to achieve those."