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  1. Opinion

Ruth: The problems of this trio's closed-door budget are no secret

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron talk during a budget conference committee meeting in Tallahassee on May 5.
Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron talk during a budget conference committee meeting in Tallahassee on May 5.
Published Jun. 7, 2017

Next year when the Florida Legislature once again meets for its 60-day session of engaging in less productivity than the Nepalese navy, both Florida Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran will deliver stirring hypocritical speeches pledging pure, open government in the full flower of the sunshine.

And then their britches will explode into a volcanic eruption of flames.

For in Tallahassee, when chaps like Scott and Corcoran promise transparency they are — in a word — not being honest. Too nuanced?

As a Floridian you have every right to be offended over being treated like a chump. If you are a member of the Florida Legislature, especially a Republican, you have to feel more rudely dissed than Montenegran President Dusko Markovic, who was brusquely shoved aside when he found himself stuck between President Donald Trump and a camera at a recent NATO summit.

The 120 members of the Florida House and the current 39 members of the Florida Senate are formally charged with completing a single task — to approve the state's budget. Everything else is mere make-work to satisfy the interests of the lobbying corps.

But as it turned out 157 Florida legislators were completely unnecessary to crafting the budget. Who needed them when only Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron, along with Scott, could get the job done in secret?

Days ago, Scott, Corcoran and Negron appeared together to announce they had cooked up an $83 billion budget for the Legislature to vote on during its current special session. No committee hearings. No testimony from the diverse parties affected by the budget. Nothing. Nada. Zero.

This is how the budget of the third-largest state in the nation is cobbled together. By three guys turning the process into something out of a good ol' boy Skull and Bones Society. SPECTRE isn't this furtive.

Amid the provisions put forth by the Scott/Corcoran/Negron Axis of Arrogance, overall education funding will be increased by $215 million so that the governor can finally brag he cares about children in advance of an anticipated U.S. Senate run in 2018.

As well, the Shadow Knows 3.0 threw Scott a bone by setting aside $85 million for a Florida Jobs Growth Fund, which is essentially a reconstituted Enterprise Florida pot of money, which Corcoran, who deludes himself into thinking he could be the next governor, originally sniffed was little more than "corporate welfare." My, how principled positions crumble when ambition raises its head.

And even Scott's pet Visit Florida program, which the ever-flexible Corcoran also vilified as a needless slush fund, was brought back to life with $76 million. The speaker also got his Christmas stocking filled with $140 million set aside for charter schools to compete with public schools subsidized with taxpayer money. And it was all done in the dark, in secret, away from public scrutiny.

At first blush, it would appear Scott, Corcoran and Negron engaged in an egregious violation of the Florida Constitution, which prevents them from meeting in secret to agree upon legislation. There was no violation, Negron insisted, because at no point during the clandestine budget talks were he, Corcoran or Scott actually physically in the same room at the same time. Instead supernumerary flunkies shuttled back and forth between the parties exchanging information. And a few phone calls were made, but phone calls don't count.

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Tallahassee is a funny place. Scott, Corcoran and Negron may have thought they could cram their covert, hubris-inspired budget down the throats of the rest of the Legislature. Instead it seems the rank and file has spit out the attempt to treat them like so many serfs haplessly falling in line.

These people are, after all, politicians with tender egos who don't like to be embarrassed. There's no secret about that, except perhaps to the triad of perfidy.