Legislative leaders put the final touches on an approximately $80 billion budget Monday night with a last-minute flurry of education construction, water projects and other spending items, adding $7 million in police radios amid heavy static from lobbyists. The House insisted on the radios even though no agency asked for them.
The final deals set the stage for a budget to be available to all 160 lawmakers sometime Tuesday, starting the clock on a 72-hour "cooling off" period in advance of an on-time end to the 2016 session Friday. Gov. Rick Scott has line-item veto power to cancel legislative spending decisions, and lawmakers can override him by a two-thirds vote of both houses.
Tapping a "bill pot" of contingency money set aside for last-minute compromises, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, and Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, spent $123 million on dozens of supplemental initiatives. That total is one-third as much as what lawmakers approved last year before Scott vetoed a large chunk of the last-minute spending.
Monday's approvals included $49 million for a performance-based bonus program for teachers known as the Best and Brightest, $25 million to reduce waiting lists for services at the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, $20 million more for cultural grants and $11 million to finish a project at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville that had been left off the list of higher education projects approved Sunday.
"That's why we have a supplemental list, so that we can make sure that we can correct those mistakes, and we did," Corcoran said.
Osceola County schools would get $4 million more in construction money, Visit Florida would get $2 million more for tourism promotion, and Farm Share, a Homestead-based program that distributes surplus food to the needy, was given $500,000.
Lawmakers went one last round in what Lee called a "vendor fist fight" over police radios produced by Harris Corp. in Melbourne in the home county of House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island. Amid heavy last-minute lobbying, the two sides agreed to pay for $7 million for radios for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, even though neither agency asked for the replacement equipment.
"There was no request from the agencies for these radios. They don't want them. They're going to get them anyway. We'll see if they take them," Lee said. "We spend a lot of money on things the agency doesn't ask for."
"We have the power of the purse," Corcoran said, "and the executive branch has the power of vetoes. That will play itself out."