Heading into budget talks, Weatherford and Gaetz all smiles
The size of teacher and state worker raises, a possible 6 percent university tuition increase, and whether or not millions will be spent on affordable housing are just some of the issues to be determined as the House and Senate begin budget negotiations this week and next.
On Thursday, House and Senate leaders agreed on general revenue allocations of $26.99 billion in general revenue, which makes up about a third of the state’s $74 billion budget. (General revenue comes from the sales tax, the corporate income tax, documentary stamps and various other taxes and fees. The other two thirds are federal grants and state trust funds.)
The proposed spending is about what the House proposed in its initial proposed allocation in March. The Senate initially proposed $26.8 billion.
House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz say there are few major differences this year than in years past. Thank an overall surplus of more than $3 billion for that.
The mood was upbeat Thursday as lobbyists and agency officials packed the Capitol to watch Weatherford and Gaetz introduce the beginning of budget negotiations between the House and Senate.
“As I walked into the room and took a good look around, what’s abundantly clear is that there appears to be a budget surplus this year,” Weatherford said. “That’s a good thing. We haven’t seen that in a long time.”
Gaetz and Weatherford then lauded each other for five minutes.
“Thanks for being a wonderful partner and more importantly a friend,” Weatherford told Gaetz.
“It is a pleasure to work with somebody who knows his business, who keeps his word, who has high principles, and whose principles I can relate to and share,” Gaetz said of Weatherford.
While much of this love fest is for show, it was a definitive break from the fractured relationship between the previous Speaker and President, Dean Cannon and Mike Haridopolos, who were rarely seen together.
At least publicly, Weatherford is making an effort to show deference to the Senate.
“If this ends up being a ping pong contest we know the House loses,” Weatherford told the Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart and the conference committee. “This budget process is about compromise. It’s not going to be a House budget, it’s not going to be a Senate budget, it’s going to be our budget, Republican, Democrat, House and Senate. All I ask is make it one we’re proud of.”
But differences between Weatherford's House and Gaetz's Senate on other issues -- such as the use of federal money for expanding health coverage for uninsured Floridians or whether to overhaul the state's pension system -- could complicate budget negotiations.
Committees begin negotiating today and have until Tuesday evening to resolved any differences before they are "bumped" to the next level of decision-making: appropriation chairs Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart and Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland.
Committees meet at all hours of the day and week, morning, noon and night, and members are told to expect to work weekends. Meetings must be posted an hour ahead of time to allow those wishing to attend enough time to arrive.