TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Amid a backdrop of growing distrust among top Republicans, the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature on Wednesday started a three-day special session aimed primarily at boosting money for the state’s public schools.
But the House and Senate appeared to be on a collision course as they drew up different plans over where to get the money to pay for an additional $100 a year for each of the state’s nearly 3 million public school students.
The Florida Senate also took the unusual step on the first day of voting to override some of Gov. Rick Scott’s vetoes, including more than $11.4 billion in school funding, calling it “insurance” just in case the two sides are unable to work out a final deal. This marks the first time during Scott’s time as a governor that either chamber has voted to override any of his vetoes.
Just a few days ago, it appeared that Scott and legislative leaders had worked out a budget deal that called for increasing money to schools, while also spending money on some of Scott’s top priorities, including restoring funding to the state’s tourism marketing agency. The two leaders joined Scott in Miami when he announced this week’s special session.
Senate President Joe Negron, however, contended that the Senate had never agreed on all the details and that Scott had reached an agreement with House Speaker Richard Corcoran. Scott has been feuding with Corcoran and House Republicans for months over House plans to slash or eliminate economic development money. Scott also announced the special session before he revealed he had vetoed $400 million in projects, many of them targeting the state’s 12 public universities.
“I think that the governor spent his time working with the party that was opposing his agenda,” Negron said. “There is a pathway to resolving his issues with the House, and now the Senate is saying, ‘There are some budget issues we want considered.’ I am hopeful we will look at everyone’s priorities.”
Scott wants legislators to set aside money for the tourism marketing agency Visit Florida, increase money for schools and create a new $85 million fund that will be used to attract new businesses. But Senate leaders say they want partial restoration of cuts to hospitals that had been included in the new state budget signed last week by Scott. The Senate late Wednesday also voted to override Scott’s veto of $75 million worth of university projects.
The Senate’s suggestions have been met with resistance from House leaders. Rep. Carlos Trujillo, the House budget chairman, questioned the need to consider any veto overrides. House Republicans are also opposed to a Senate proposal to use local property taxes to provide some of the increased money for public schools. Trujillo called it a tax increase.
Despite the looming conflict, the two chambers did start moving economic development bills.
A House panel unanimously passed the bill, despite opposition from Democrats who criticized a section that provides $85 million to the Department of Economic Opportunity. Democrats said it gives Scott too much leeway on how the money is spent. They were also upset that the money for businesses is included in the same bill that restores funding to Visit Florida.
House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz acknowledged a large group of hotel owners who drove to the Capitol to support the bill, saying she was supporting the measure for them despite the inclusion of what she called a “slush fund” for the governor.
“That is the poison pill that I have to swallow in order to protect you guys today, and it’s very hard,” Cruz said.
But Republicans said there will be limits to how the $85 million can be spent, and pointed out none of the money can be used to benefit only one business.
Associated Press writer Joe Reedy contributed to this report.