On a Senate budget panel, fresh signs of discord
Things are not going well in Mike Haridopolos' Senate. Fresh signs of discord emerged Tuesday in what began as a routine review of the $8-billion-plus budget proposal in the Tourism & Economic Development Subcommittee. The senatorial anger and frustration is aimed at leadership, but the convenient target was Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, who chairs the 15-member panel.
The Senate is advancing its budget more than a week after the House did, and senators are forced to play catch-up, and things got ornery.
"What's the rush?" asked Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton. "I don't see that we have to rush this through without asking questions."
Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, wondered why money for housing assistance is eliminated in the budget proposal, and Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, agreed with him. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said the "rumor mill" has it that the budget will be sent to the Senate budget chief JD Alexander as a recommendation. Benacquisto abruptly stopped her review of the budget and spent the rest of an hour-long meeting fielding questions.
Latvala asked Benacquisto a point-blank question: Will an upcoming conforming bill make the now-private Florida Housing Finance Corp. part of state government? She did not answer directly, and instead said: "Senator Latvala, you are always so cute."
Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, wanted a detailed list of all member projects in this part of the budget -- "specific hometown appropriations," as he called them. Other senators raised similar concerns after seeing line items favored by Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, that Gov. Rick Scott vetoed last spring.
To allay senators' concerns, Haridopolos called a meeting of the budget panel at a most inconvenient time: 7 a.m. Friday, the day after the full Senate Budget Committee takes up the budget bills. "That's a gimmick," Fasano said.