TALLAHASSEE -- The Legislature’s top two budget leaders Saturday tried to work out final details of a compromise spending plan after joint conference committees settled most issues earlier in the week.
The joint committees had reached agreements on college and university tuition increases and scholarship cuts, as well as a requirement for public employee retirement contributions and cuts to their benefits.
The committees passed along issues they couldn’t settle to House Appropriations Chairwoman Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, and Senate Budget Chairman JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales.
One of the major issues the two budget leaders settled was prison privatization. Grimsley agreed to the Senate’s plan to privatize prisons in an 18-county area of South Florida. The House had proposed turning over only those prisons in Miami-Dade and Broward counties to private companies. Grimsley also dropped the House’s plan to privatize probation and parole services in those two counties.
The plan is expected to result in savings of at least 7 percent, or about $30 million a year, although just a fraction of that in the first year, Alexander said. It will also mean laying off thousands of unionized correctional workers.
The biggest differences remaining were in health care spending.
“It’s the only area that I see any issues that are really troubling to try and resolve,” Alexander said. “The Senate feels like we made some tough decisions about how to reduce costs and we believe the House needs to find savings within the area their budget is over the cuts that we took.”
For instance, the Senate has proposed deep cuts for transplant recipients and other “medically needy” patients with catastrophic illnesses but who lack sufficient insurance coverage.
Grimsley said some of those issues may get another bump to House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merrit Island.
They must get a deal on a budget that’s expected to top $67 billion by Tuesday in order for lawmakers to finish the annual 60-day legislative session on time Friday.
Both chambers have cut spending by nearly $4 billion because the recession-wracked state isn’t collecting enough revenue to keep up with growing costs and demands for public services.