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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Showdown looms as Senate considers new budget-writing rule



At Florida's Capitol, far from the noise over tourism spending, a bigger clash looms between the House and Senate over stark differences in the Legislature's sole constitutional responsibility: the writing of a state budget.

For weeks, Senate President Joe Negron and his lieutenants have worked on a proposed new joint rule in response to House changes to the budget process, including a separate bill for each member project and a filing deadline of March 7, the first day of session. The Senate opposes those changes and considers them a procedural straitjacket that gives the House too much control over writing a budget while limiting public access to spending decisions.

Senators will offer a compromise Thursday at a Rules Committee meeting in what Negron calls a "show of good faith" to the House. "I'm putting forth a proposal that hopefully will allow us to work out this issue before we get to session," Negron told the Times/Herald.

Senators are critical of House Speaker Richard Corcoran's changes, approved by all House members. But without a two-chamber agreement, work on the budget can't get very far, virtually ensuring an overtime session. The Senate proposal would largely roll back the House changes, which Corcoran considers unacceptable.

"It's a giant move backwards against accountability and transparency," Corcoran told the Times/Herald.

Negron says the Legislature should not "artificially shut down the budget process" and that the Florida Constitution is clear: Neither chamber can establish a budget process that the other chamber must follow. "We're a bicameral Legislature," Negron said.

The Senate proposal, known as Joint Rule Two, says any member's spending project can be included in the final budget if it "is provided to the public at the time the funding is proposed in the conference committee and the conference committee has provided time for public testimony." The Senate also would replace a Corcoran priority, an online 37-question survey on every project, with eight general criteria, such as "the legal entity designated to receive and expend the funding." The Senate also wants to prohibit any lawmaker from raising a point of order to challenge any item in the final budget.

[Last modified: Thursday, February 9, 2017 7:34am]


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