Thursday, January 18, 2018
Politics

No shutdown, Hillsborough lawmakers predict for special session

TAMPA — No shutdown.

That was the message, prediction and all-but-ironclad promise from eight Hillsborough County legislators to more than 100 executives at a Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce lunch Wednesday.

"There's absolutely no question in anyone's mind that we will pass a budget," House Majority Leader Dana Young, R-Tampa, told a reporter after the lunch, "and I wish you all would stop printing that the government's going to shut down, because that's not going to happen."

This week, though, Gov. Rick Scott's administration outlined some potential consequences if legislators don't agree on a budget by June 30: lights on highways going dark, teacher pay drying up, no state oversight of privately run prisons.

"You won't see that from the House and Senate," Young said, adding that the appropriations chairmen from both chambers are in discussion already.

The legislators — six Republicans and two Democrats, six from the House and two from the Senate — acknowledged but down-played serious disagreements about Medicaid expansion and indigent health care, saying there's less infighting and rancor in Tallahassee than people are led to believe.

Still, they acknowledged they don't yet know how they're going to do this.

"In fairness to everyone that's expressed an opinion about this, they're all right," Senate budget chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said of questions over Medicaid expansion facing the Legislature.

"We don't know exactly how this is all going to play out," he said. "These are reasonable concerns that people have about this policy. All I would say is, you know, 'What's your plan?' We can't just keep saying no. Republicans control every office in Tallahassee. ... We get elected to solve problems, and we want to come to the table and have a conversation about that. All we're looking for is a dance partner."

A few minutes later, someone from the audience wanted a comment on the House of Representatives' decision to adjourn early, forcing the special session.

"Sometimes when you are in a situation of profound disagreement with someone that you care about, it's better to take a deep breath, step back and let cooler heads prevail before engaging again," Young said.

Legislators also offered reassurances on a few topics of local concern.

Despite questions about the future of federal money for a "low-income pool" that reimburses hospitals like Tampa General for treating the poor, "we will make sure we protect our hospitals that are providing these services," said state Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa.

Also, legislators from both chambers said they recognize how important it is to appropriate funds to build the University of South Florida's planned medical school building in Jeff Vinik's downtown development. USF is seeking $57 million in state funds over the next two years for the project.

There are differences in the House and Senate plans, Lee said, but both sides will continue to work on it because the USF project represents "an important moment in history for us."

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