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Not much ground to cover in House and Senate budget negotiations

It’s a magical time for the budget season, when projects suddenly appear in the proposed budget, or, just as easily, vanish with nary an explanation.

Monday was the first day when the House and Senate officially met to negotiate their proposed budgets, and they’re already pretty close. (Makes it hard to believe they haven’t already been meeting, amirite?)

Out of a proposed spending of $75 billion, lawmakers have already agreed on $500 million in tax and fee cuts (they still need to figure out the shape of about $100 million), a $580 million to cover unfunded liabilities in the state’s Florida Retirement System, and $3 billion in reserves so we “don’t eat our seed corn,” said Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

“There are no differences that can’t be worked out,” Gaetz said. “We’re starting fairly close…There are no insurmountable issues here.”

The biggest differences can be found in the pet projects, which grew  in number this year because of a pent-up demand combined with the first budget surplus in an election year since 2006.  

But already that gap started closing, and that meant good things for Clearwater’s Marine Aquarium. The House budget proposes $4 million for the aquarium, which received $5 million last year, partly because Dolphin Tale 2 is being shot there. The Senate only proposed $1 million, but doubled that offer with its first offer to the House.

Other winners include:

-- Le Feria De Las Americas, a non-profit multicultural event produced in Miami by Exponica International that started in 1991. The Senate didn’t propose anything in its original budget, but offered $250,000 on Monday to match the House offer.

-- A BMX training facility in Oldsmar, which the Senate didn’t budget initially. It offered $750,000 to come closer to the House proposal of spending $1,270,000 on it.

-- Traffic enforcement: the Senate threw in about $500,000 more in upping offers to match the House in spending $3.18 million to replace Florida Highway Patrol pursuit vehicles and $3.48 million on “enhancing traffic law enforcement.”

-- The Florida African-American Heritage Preservation Network, which the Senate offered $400,000, a $100,000 increase from its original offer, so that it could match the House.

-- Port St. Joe’s Historic Cape San Blas Lighthouse Complex Rescue and Relocation Project, which the Senate didn’t even budget for. But it matched the House offer of $200,000.It received $325,000 last year.

-- Palm Harbor Historical Society Museum, where the Senate matched the House’s $387,753 after initially proposing nothing on the project.

-- Dunedin Fine Art Center, Inc. Expansion got the Senate to meet the House offer of $500,000, after not proposing a dime for it in its initial budget.

-- The Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center crashed the proceedings with a $500,000 offer from the Senate. It wasn’t in either the House or Senate budget.

-- The Urban League of Broward saw its take from the Senate climb from $150,000 to $200,000. The House offered nothing for it in its initial budget.

-- Metropolitan Ministries in Pasco climbed to $1 million in the Senate to match the House’s proposal, way more than the original $100,000 from the Senate.

-- Hernando County’s Nature Coast Educational Plaza shot up in the Senate from $200,000 to $1 million, matching the House offer.

Losers include Visit Florida, which saw the Senate shave $1 million from its proposed budget and offer $30.5 million to the state’s tourism agency, moving it closer to the House’s $27.8 million.

Other losers, so far:

-- SkyRise Miami -- The tower/amusement ride in downtown Miami has $10 million in the House budget. The Senate proposed spending  nothing on it in its budget. In its first offer, it still doesn’t.

It’s early. More will change. And it will all happen behind the scenes in a state where there are now 1,100 exemptions to Florida's public records law. There were only 250 exemptions in 1985.