Florida Legislature won't finish its work on time

Session scheduled to end on Friday
Posted at 2:48 AM, May 03, 2017

The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature, bogged down in a dispute over millions of dollars tied to hospitals and nursing homes, won't be able to wrap up its work on time for the second time in three years.

Up against a Tuesday deadline, legislative leaders were unable to reach an agreement on the fine print of a new $83 billion state budget. Florida law requires that the budget be completely finished 72 hours before a final vote can be taken.

"It's better to get it right then get it done on time," said Senate President Joe Negron.

Just last week Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran had forged a deal behind closed doors on how much money to spend overall and in key areas such as employee pay raises and public schools. Corcoran predicted the session would end peacefully and told reporters at the time that "I know you all wrote it was going to be a train wreck... There will be no crashes despite your reporting."

But the Senate and House were unable to bridge all their differences, including how to portion out $650 million in proposed cuts to the state's hospitals and whether to switch to a new payment formula for nursing homes.

Two years ago the session ended abruptly over a push by Senate Republicans to draw down federal aid and expand Medicaid after the federal government said it was cutting back money given to Florida hospitals to treat low-income patients. Legislators were forced to come back weeks later to pass a budget and keep state government open.

Now that legislators have missed this year's deadline it could drag out those negotiations. The lack of a deal could also delay resolution of proposals directly tied to the budget including a $200 million plan to create "Schools of Hope." That's Corcoran's ambitious plan to shift students from chronically failing schools to charter schools run by private organizations.

And even if legislators quickly finish their work on the budget they are still dealing with the possibility that Gov. Rick Scott will veto it. Scott has sharply criticized his fellow Republicans for failing to set aside money this year for his top priorities, including $100 million for the agency that does tourism marketing and $200 million to repair a dike that surrounds Lake Okeechobee. Scott also wanted money for incentives to lure businesses to the state.

Scott on Wednesday will start a 10-city three day tour where he will ask voters to call on GOP legislators and ask that they support the governor.

"Not funding these priorities will have severe repercussions across our state and Florida could lose hundreds of thousands of jobs," said Scott in a statement. "Our economy is on a roll and now is not the time to take our foot off the gas."

The session lasted 60 days and is scheduled to end Friday.