TALLAHASSEE — Legislators are contemplating an unappetizing prospect: The Legislature might not reach a budget deal by the scheduled May 1 adjournment, potentially forcing a rare overtime session to get the job done.
Almost two weeks into their annual session, legislators face a tight schedule to hash out grueling budget decisions, with a revenue estimate released Friday showing the budget deficit for 2010 now tops $6 billion. Adding to the angst: a looming battle over how much federal stimulus money legislators should use to plug that shortfall.
“I think there’s a legitimate chance” the budget work won’t be done on time, said Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres. “That’s the elephant in the room. We don’t know how much (stimulus) money we’re getting.”
A delay could cost taxpayers up to $40,000 a day to keep legislators in town. And it could mean weeks of uncertainty for schools and other agencies and programs that rely on state funding.
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The last budget stalemate was in 2003, when an acrimonious standoff between the Senate and House Speaker Johnnie Byrd produced a budget nearly a month behind schedule. Before that, budget cuts triggered by a severe recession in 1992 kept legislators in town through June.
Even among those who think legislators will manage to cut a deal before the end of regular session, few think the spending plan will stick if the economy worsens. “They probably will end on time, and then come back in a special session to cut again,” said Rebecca O’Hara, a lobbyist with the Florida League of Cities.
Florida’s citizen-Legislature gathers in Tallahassee from March to May for its 60-day lawmaking session. According to the state constitution, legislators are required to pass only one bill: a budget.
The fiscal crisis “has the makings of being here through May and June — easily,” lobbyist Ron Book said. “I don’t see us getting out of here in any reasonable amount of time. I’m betting not sooner than May 25.”