Budget negotiations move forward
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Lawmakers continued to work toward a budget agreement Saturday, as one budget conference committee finished its work and another cleared away a major hurdle to a deal.
But some of the highest-profile issues, from a difference over teacher pay raises to how to structure a major change in Medicaid reimbursements, remained unresolved with a Tuesday deadline looming before legislative leaders take over the negotiations.
A joint House-Senate committee overseeing the government operations side of the budget -- largely dealing with state regulators and management -- reached a deal on most of the issues facing the committee Saturday, becoming the first of several conference committees to finish its work.
"We both wanted to spend our time wisely and be here and be efficient and so it was a lot more smooth than I think it could have been, or I, in my mind, could see that it could have been," said Rep. Clay Ingram, R-Pensacola, who led the House negotiations.
Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, headed the Senate contingent.
But the panel still had to "bump" some issues up to meetings next week between Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and House Appropriations Chairman Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland. All unresolved issues have to be referred to the pair by 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Among the differences that couldn't be overcome: Where some state technology functions should be housed, a pair of measures meant to increase transparency in state spending and a Senate provision requiring the Public Service Commission to perform a review of the "prudency, cost effectiveness, and need of any proposed nuclear power plant for which cost recovery has been authorized."
Meanwhile, lawmakers working on the budget for the state's justice system agreed to remove clerks of court from the budget, where they had been housed since 2009. Senate lawmakers had wanted to retain some control over clerks' spending to ensure accountability.
Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said the upper chamber had made that concession on the budget with an eye on later discussions about a related bill.
"But when we start to get into the details of conforming bill language I think you'll see it become apparent that there will continue to be robust accountability measures with regards to clerks' operations throughout the state," he said.
Despite the movements Saturday, some of the biggest conflicts remained unresolved. The chambers didn't expect to hold discussions on the plans to overhaul the way Medicaid pays hospitals until at least Sunday, preferring to get other, smaller details of the health care budget out of the way first.
And the conference committee hammering out a deal on education spending met just once for the second day in a row. House lawmakers want a difference structure for teacher pay raises and $148.4 million more that local districts could, but would not be required to, use on those increases.
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