State Politics

Compromise renews state budget talks

TALLAHASSEE — Negotiations on a new state budget picked up steam Monday as legislators sought common ground in hopes of bringing the 2010 session to a smooth conclusion late next week.

Talks temporarily collapsed over the weekend when the House and Senate could not make a fundamental decision of how much general tax revenue to allocate to specific budget areas, but they reached a compromise Monday.

Crossing that hurdle allowed negotiations to proceed later than usual, and left enough time to finalize a budget by April 27 and end the session by April 30.

To get talks off dead center, the House agreed to plug in $880 million from an anticipated Congressional extension of a federal Medicaid stimulus program on the condition that most of the money be set aside for savings. Gov. Charlie Crist and the Senate provisionally spent that money on an array of human services, but Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, accepted the House’s position to spend only $115 million.

Democrats were dismayed by the Senate’s acquiescence, because it may short-change vital human services.

Over the next several days, lawmakers still must resolve differences on a wide range of spending issues, from aiding public libraries to raiding a popular road-building fund to reducing pension benefits for current and retired public employees.