TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Legislators likely will need extra time to hammer out the state budget for next fiscal year, as they continue to clash over issues including the fate of Florida’s tourism-marketing agency.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley said Tuesday that while the Senate is making progress with the House in behind-the-scenes budget negotiations, “there is a good possibility that we may need to extend session.”
The Fleming Island Republican added, “that is a very good possibility.”
A short time later. House Speaker Jose Oliva told his chamber it is “inevitable” the legislative session will run into overtime.
“The extent of that extension is yet unknowable,” Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, said. “But we are confident, we’re working closely with our partners in the Senate, to bridge the gaps between us that can get us into allocations and then into conference. We’re confident that we can get it done. But as of this moment, we are extending at the very least a day or two.”
The 60-day annual session is scheduled to end March 13. But to adjourn on time, the House and Senate would have to finish the budget by March 10 because of a legally required 72-hour “cooling off” period.
Before they can reach agreement, House and Senate leaders will have to make “allocations,” which essentially determine how much money will be provided to each area of the budget, such as education, health care and criminal justice. Conference committees, made up of House and Senate members, then will hold negotiating sessions before final decisions are made by leaders.
Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters Tuesday that extending the session a few days “is not the end of the world.”
“What I told both leaders is, do a good job. Let’s just do a good job,” DeSantis said. “I think we have a lot of great stuff in the pipeline here, I think we have the chance to exceed on what we did last session. I think the people in Florida want to see us doing big things on education, environment and economic development.”
Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, told reporters an extension could resemble last year, when lawmakers added a day to the session to complete the then-record $90.98 billion spending plan for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
“These things are complicated,” Galvano said. “If you look at the (House and Senate) budgets as they were rolled out, we’re over $1 billion apart.”
The House has offered a $91.37 billion fiscal package, while the Senate proposal came in at $92.83 billion.
“I think over the next 48 hours we’ll figure out where we are,” Galvano added.
“There is a lot that is lined up,” Galvano said. “For example, we’ve been working very hard to find that sweet spot on teacher compensation and moving the education silo forward. There is the environmental side of it. There is a lot of alignment.”
Among key issues is the House’s desire to use affordable-housing money for other parts of the budget; a disagreement about how much money to spend on the Florida Forever land-preservation program; differences on pay raises for teachers and state employees; and a House push to eliminate the tourism-marketing agency Visit Florida.
The Senate has pushed a bill (SB 362) intended to keep Visit Florida operating through Oct. 1, 2028. The House wants to close the agency, which receives $50 million in state money this year.
Galvano said the House and opponents of Visit Florida aren’t wrong to question some of the past spending by the agency, which included $1 million for rapper Pitbull to market the state and $11.6 million to sponsor a cooking show hosted by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.
But Galvano said Visit Florida is needed to combat negative images of Florida.
“When you have issues like (the virus) Zika for example, that was tens of millions of dollars that it cost our tourist industry, especially in South Florida,” Galvano said. “Algae and red tide and now corona (the coronavirus). It is important to have some mitigating voice out there so people around the world have a realistic understanding of what is a threat and what isn’t.”
Galvano said the two chambers are also working with DeSantis on emergency funding to help the state address the coronavirus, known as COVID-19.
“I think initially we’re talking about $10 (million) to $20 million,” Galvano said. “Until we really know what we’re looking at, the number is still in play.”