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Budget-talk meltdown? Or staredown? No conf. 'till after Easter

Sen. budget chief J.D. Alexander just told the Senate Appropriations Committee and the assembled hordes that the House and Senate can't agree on bottom-line allocations yet so there's a good chance that the two chambers won't be able to reconcile their differences in conference committee until after Easter.

"We will continue to work toward a productive budget conference following next week's holidays -- following next week's holidays.... perhaps," Alexander said. "Unfortunately, we are not quite as far along as we want to be."

The two chambers are about $4 billion apart on their bottom lines. But that's largely due to new accounting practices on behalf of the Senate, which wants to rope in water-management districts, three expressway authorities and employee health care costs into the budget. The Senate's $70.1 billion budget also accounts for the state's clerks of court. The House's $66.5 billion budget has none of that.

The House has an ace-in-the hole: Speaker Dean Cannon, who doesn't appear to want anything more out of the Legislature. So he doesn't feel the pressing need to rush ahead and get out on time, May 6 -- unlike Senate President Mike Haridopolos, who wants to hit the campaign trail in his bid for U.S. Senate.

Another sticking point: Medicaid. Some in the House feel the Senate's version of a Medicaid Reform bill is too different than the product the House sent the Senate last year. Alexander said he "stands with" Haridopolos over Medicaid and noted that Gov. Rick Scott supports elements of both the House and Senate plans.

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