BRADENTON, Fla. - Florida lawmakers negotiating the 2018 budget missed a deadline to strike a deal this week, sending the annual session to an extension.
The $83 billion spending plan has been negotiated largely between chamber leaders as opposed to conference committees.
The appropriations bill, technically the only measure the Legislature is required to pass each year, needed to be ready Tuesday to give lawmakers time to review it before voting on Friday, the scheduled end of session.
Major allocations – particularly for healthcare and hospital funding – reportedly were among the sticking points between House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Stuart, and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Land O’ Lakes, who held negotiations in private.
They announced a deal on Wednesday, saying that the session would be extended until Monday to allow for final voting, though no specific details were immediately released.
As the situation played out in Tallahassee, Gov. Rick Scott was on yet another swing of the state to drum up support for funding the state’s economic development and tourism agencies.
Scott also had asked lawmakers to include $200 million in the budget to make repairs to the weakened dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee, Florida’s largest lake.
The repairs are the responsibility of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Negron had said in early March that if Florida advanced funds for the repairs the state would not be reimbursed by the federal government.
“We will have simply spent hundreds of millions of dollars of general revenue funds on what is unquestionably a federal responsibility,” he said then.
As the final days of the legislative session wound down, lawmakers passed a flurry of bills.
On Tuesday, lawmakers voted to pass HJR 7105 setting the stage for a statewide referendum next year to ask voters to approve a third homestead exemption on properties where homeowners live full-time.
If the constitutional amendment is approved by 60% of those voting, it would provide a homestead exemption up to $75,000 from taxes levied by cities, counties, and most special districts on the first $100,000 of a home’s taxable value. It does not apply to taxes levied by school districts.
“If passed by the voters, this additional exemption will be one of, if not the largest, tax cut in the history of Florida at $645 million,” said Corcoran. “For just the third time in state history the people will see real tax relief in homeownership.”
The Florida Association of Counties and the Florida League of Cities oppose the measure because they say it will shift the burden of paying property taxes to non-homesteaded properties and businesses.
Small, fiscally constrained counties that are already assessing taxes at or near Florida’s 10-mill cap will also be hit hardest by the increased homestead exemption because they may need to cut services, according to the FAC.
Also on Tuesday, the Senate and House gave final approval to SB 10, a reservoir spearheaded by Negron to be built south of Lake Okeechobee.
Envisioned as a state-federal initiative, the $1.5 billion project will be built on state land to hold polluted overflow water from the lake that has caused harmful algae blooms along the state’s coasts.
SB 10 allocates funds from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund, which can leverage up to $800 million of bonds to finance the project.
Scott had previously said that he opposed the use of debt for the reservoir project, but on Wednesday the governor said he looked forward to signing SB 10.
“Everglades restoration is a top priority and that’s why I’ve been extremely clear that in addition to SB 10, the Legislature should include $200 million in the budget to help fix the…dike,” he said in a statement. “President Trump has already committed federal funds to this project and Florida cannot miss this opportunity to partner with the Trump Administration for a project that will significantly benefit Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades and our environment.”