Florida attorney general Pam Bondi clarified Tuesday that she was not feuding with the Legislature over how to spend $300 million in cash earmarked for Florida as part of a $25 billion national foreclosure settlement.
But it’s abundantly clear that Bondi’s office and the Legislature have two very different views on what the law says about how the money should be processed.
The Associated Press reported Monday that Bondi has not been able move forward on the funds because the Legislature wants to have a say in how the money is spent. An official in the Florida House said Bondi has two options for how to appropriate the money, and both options involve getting approval from state lawmakers (which might not happen until next spring).
Asked if she believed she had to get legislative approval to spend the cash, Bondi said: “My opinion? No. I have the authority to distribute it.”
Florida’s Constitution gives the Legislature authority to make spending decisions, but because this is a legal settlement, there is some gray area in the law.
Bondi repeated seven times in less four minutes that she was mainly concerned with making sure the money went to help homeowners, an indication that this might be a sticking point with the Legislature.
“The reason it’s taking so long is I want to be sure it goes to where it should,” said Bondi.
Several states have siphoned off the foreclosure settlement cash to help close gaping budget holes or pay for education and business initiatives. Others are using it to help troubled homeowners and rebuild hard-hit neighborhoods.
More than six months after the settlement was announced, Florida is one of the remaining states that has not yet decided how to spend the funds. Meanwhile, more than one in five mortgages in the state are seriously delinquent, and likely headed for foreclosure (that number is more than three times the national average, and worst nationwide).
An official for the Legislature did not say that lawmakers were completely committed to spending the cash on homeowners.
Bondi, who in April asked the public to give her ideas on how to spend the money, said she's adamant that the money go to homeowners, and not to the state budget.
The state budget has already received $34 million from the settlement for non-housing related purposes. The national settlement also includes $8 billion worth of loan modifications, principal reductions and cash payments for Florida homeowners affected by the foreclosure crisis.
Here are some of Bondi’s comments on Tuesday
Reporter: Does the Legislature have an opinion in how that money is apportioned, in your opinion?
Bondi: "My opinion? No. I have the authority to distribute it. Right now it’s in an escrowed account. And it’s a court ordered settlement that gives me the authority as attorney general to distribute that money, to homeowners. Having said that, I’m committed to working with the Legislature to ensure that these funds go exactly where they should. But there is no feud."
--“All I care about is that the money goes to the appropriate people, which are the homeowners who were affected.”
-- “I’m not worried about [the money going to nno-housing-related issues] at all. It’s going to protect homeowners. It’s my name on that agreement.”
-- “From a legal perspective, this is ordinary, but from a dollar amount, it’s extraordinary.”
-- “This isn’t a tax appropriation, this is a settlement agreement”