The paper flew. One handout, then three, then six, then nine, 12 and finally 15.
Just before midnight at Florida’s Capitol, legislators reappeared in public to put the finishing touches on an $80 billion-or-so budget that now awaits the formality of an up-or-down vote by lawmakers and a review by Gov. Rick Scott. Vendor-driven language dealing with replacing portable statewide police radios, creating a pilot online education program and a $1 million handout to the beef and beef products industry.
Now that’s pork!
The day had begun with Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, saying “so far so good,” but warning that money was extremely tight because of the need to spend $400 million in tax revenue to shore up the loss of federal money in the low income pool for hospitals.
“We’re in a new world order now,” Gardiner said. “When you take over $400 million out of the budget and put it into health care, there’s going to be impact.”
Legislative leaders insist that they and not bureaucrats know how to best allocate taxpayers’ money because they understand the needs back home, and they traditionally hoard a secret stash of public money to fund the wish lists of powerful members.
So projects suddenly sprouted more zeroes, such as the $2 million for the “IMG Campus Expansion” for a privately-owned youth sports training center in Bradenton that had appeared as a $50,000 line item on Saturday. A $500,000 grant to the Urban League that had been quietly mumbled into the budget over the weekend swelled to $2 million. But there would be no public explanation of why taxpayers’ money was being divvied up like this.
Projects that were rejected two days earlier in budget areas that had been closed out suddenly sprang back to life, like a $1 million appropriation for expansion of the Charlotte County Justice Center. Millions of dollars for solid-color school uniforms appeared — a priority of House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island that had been discussed in the regular session in March. Many projects appear noble, such as $400,000 for an elderly meals program for seniors in Nassau and Duval counties.
A flood of water projects arrived from the Senate, running for three full pages and totaling nearly $50 million. In what appeared like an attempt to buy veto insurance with Scott, Enterprise Florida magically got another $8.5 million to market Florida and $11 million more in incentive money.
No backup paperwork. No explanation in public. The clock had run out on the Legislature.
Monday night’s orgy of spending on what lawmakers call “supplemental funding issues” almost seemed to dare Gov. Rick Scott to sharpen his veto ax. Stunned lobbyists sat on the floor of a Knott Building committee room, trying to make sense of it all, like kids trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube puzzle.
Late-night backroom dealing on member projects is nothing new in Tallahassee. For lobbyists, lawmakers, staff members and the media, this wasn’t their first rodeo. Speaking of which, tucked into the budget is $100,000 for the Town of Davie Bergeron Rodeo Arena Enhancement, a project that bears the name of a Scott supporter, rancher Ron Bergeron.
Surrounded by reporters, the two budget chairmen, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, and Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, defended the end result. “At the end of the day, this is a negotiation. It’s a bicameral process,” Lee told reporters.
“If you talk to members, I think they would tell you that we were very open, very transparent, more than in any years previous,” Corcoran said. “This is the way government should work.”
Moments later, Corcoran walked away from the throng of reporters, leaving Lee alone. “It’s 11:45 and I’ve got six kids,” Corcoran said. “I wish you all a good night.”
Original article here.