With 10 days left in the Florida Legislature's annual session, the public posturing and backroom negotiating over the state budget is in full bloom. Just as in Congress, the Republicans in charge are fighting among themselves. And just as in Congress, the most ideologically driven conservatives are making the most noise and stand to do the most damage in a state that falls woefully short of the public investment needed in areas ranging from education to social services.
Florida House Republicans — including Rep. Blaise Ingoglia of Spring Hill, who also is chairman of the state party — bristled Tuesday at comparisons to their unpopular brethren in Congress. They brought it on themselves. Amid acrimonious budget negotiations with the Senate, the House Appropriations Committee passed a revised state budget plan for 2017-18 that is essentially the same budget as this year's. That could be called a continuation budget, a maneuver Congress often uses to keep government running and avoid hard choices but which has no precedent in the Legislature. It definitely could be called irresponsible.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran is the consummate Tallahassee insider repackaging himself as an outsider crusading against big government and wasteful spending as he positions himself for a potential race for governor next year. The Land O'Lakes Republican has effectively fought Republican Gov. Rick Scott's programs for job incentives and tourism promotion. In recent days he has referred to Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, as Bernie Sanders and Nancy Pelosi for their willingness to spend money on protecting the environment and modest pay raises for state workers. No word on which is which, but the comparisons of these mainstream Republicans to liberal Democrats in Washington is laughable.
Corcoran has a history of hyperbole and hardball tactics, regardless of the consequences. He orchestrated the adjournment of the House three days early in 2015 to escape rising pressure to approve Medicaid expansion, which he vigorously opposed. He has called the teachers union evil and sought to undermine the courts because he dislikes their decisions against the Legislature. Even as there was some indication Tuesday that substantive budget negotiations were resuming, Corcoran's team characterized the continuation budget as take-it-or-leave it. That may be smart posturing, but it reflects a terrible unwillingness to adequately fund Florida's real needs.
The reality is Florida ranks 48th overall in Medicaid spending and fifth in the total number of uninsured residents. It ranks near the bottom in per student spending in public education, and it has only one university ranked among the nation's top 50. Advocates for the state's overwhelmed child welfare system are asking for $49 million to hire more case managers and reduce the unbearable workload. They will be lucky to get a third of that even after Corcoran's continuation budget is set aside. Florida is a low-tax state with an outdated tax structure and mega-state with needs that aren't being met.
Negron, Latvala and their Senate colleagues should not bend on Corcoran's priorities. As the House speaker delivers public ultimatums and dares the Senate to blink, what he really wants is $200 million to lure charter schools to poor neighborhoods to replace public schools that are failing. He also wants to put a constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot to increase the homestead exemption by another $25,000, which would devastate local governments. Both proposals are irresponsible, and they reflect Corcoran's determination to upend public education and cut taxes regardless of the consequences.
State budget negotiations will take more turns over the next 10 days. But someone has to hold firm on approving a responsible state budget that offers more hope and less harm, and that will have to be the members of the Florida Senate.