The uncertainty surrounding the state budget turned a lot less uncertain Friday morning.
Many of the questions that hung over the $82.3 billion dollar spending plan were answered during a news conference in Miami where Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced a budget deal had been reached.
As part of the agreement, Scott will sign the budget into law and call the Legislature back into a special session next week. During that special session, lawmakers will add over $100 million combined into the budgets of Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, two of Scott’s top priorities.
Lawmakers will also add about $200 million back into public schools.
Scott has been at odds with legislative leaders most of this year over deep cuts in funding to Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing board, and Enterprise Florida, which promotes economic development in the state.
The governor has been on a sort of crusade since the budget passed in which he toured the state touting the economic benefits of the two agencies and warning of the negative effects the budget cuts would have on tourism and jobs if they were allowed to become law.
“Like the Legislature, I strongly believe in transparency, accountability and a strong return on investment for any taxpayer dollars used. There needs to be legislation that allows us to market our state for tourism and grow jobs while maintaining these important principals,” Scott said at the announcement. “ I look forward to working with the legislature during the upcoming special session to achieve these important goals for Florida families.”
The House speaker was a key proponent of deep cuts to Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida. At Friday’s announcement he stood with the governor in support of restoring the funding, as well as the additional dollars for public schools.
“The people of Florida should be proud today that you can have leaders with competing opinions and still compromise to meet common goals–government in Florida is working and the biggest winners are all Floridians,” said Corcoran.
The agreement will fund Visit Florida at $76 million. The $85 million that will go to Enterprise Florida will be placed in the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund which will be created to promote the state’s infrastructure and job training.
The House speaker had been critical this year of economic development dollars being used as “corporate welfare” to pay big companies to bring jobs to Florida. The money in the new grant fund will not be allowed to be used that way.
The additional money that will be added to the budget next week will come from vetoes expected to be made by the governor, which could add up to as much as $300 million. The rest of the money for the extra funding will come from state reserves.
With Friday’s announcement there is one big budget issue that has yet to be resolved–the fate of the $419 million public schools policy bill (HB 7069). It was a priority of Corcoran and includes benefits to charter schools.
Critics say the bill was brokered in secrecy during backroom meetings in the final days of the session and are calling on the governor to veto the legislation.
Next week’s special session will also be used to allow legislators to write the rules for implementing the medical marijuana constitutional amendment approved by voters in November. The House and Senate were unable to reach a compromise on implementing rules before the regular session ended.