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With budget 'allocations' done, Senate is ready to spend $250M on economic development

The Florida House and Senate are reviving their traditional budget schedule and this week gave "allocations" to their budget subcommittee chairs that set the parameters for their chamber's proposed budget.

As happens most years -- except last year when budget negotiations broke down over health care spending -- this means that the chambers will have budget details available from subcommittees in the third week of session, in full committee in the fourth week and on the floor in the fifth week. 

"We're in a very, very conventional budget calendar,'' said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, chairman of the Senate Appropriations committee. 

Neither Lee nor Senate President Andy Gardiner would disclose what their allocation numbers are for the decisions that are made behind closed doors. 

"We don't have an allocation document,'' Lee acknowledged "because if we had an allocation document, somebody is going to ask for it."

Both Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Lee said the decision on tax cuts will come later but Gardiner acknowledged that they are prepared to give the governor his full request for economic development funds -- $250 million -- for Enterprise Florida. 

Lee told the Herald/Times the Senate is prepared to put some general revenue into the health care budget to offset the hit of the loss of $400 million in low income pool funds from the federal government, but it has not determined how much.

That's a break from Gov. Rick Scott, who is refusing to use any general revenue money to help hospitals and instead has developed a model in which the more efficient hospitals share their surplus with those with less.

Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, chairman of the Health and Human Services Subcommittee, is developing alternative models aimed at particularly helping children's hospitals, Lee said. 

There's always a possibility that hospitals can work with the federal CMS to update its numbers but the governor would have to request that happens, he said. "We feel we have an obligation to come up with some ideas as problems are brought to us. Whether we can build consensus around them and get the governor's support, you never know."

"We have come out pretty lean in terms of the levels of spending because we don't know where the Legislature is going to settle on the tax cuts and the economic development package and so we're working backwards to try to determine how much that is going to consume,'' Lee said.

"I believe the Legislature needs to take the long-term view here. The governor has requested a substantial economic stimulus package and we are trying to fit that into how to balance the projections of revenues and the obligations of government to try to make sure we don't outspend our means."

Lee said that any money that remains after the tax cuts are decided, should be re-allocated to the subcommittees to avoid the "bill pot" dump that House and Senate leaders used during the special budget session in June and "so that everything stays in the public eye."

At the first bill signing of the session, Scott told reporters there was enough money to give him his spending priorities and he was "confident that we're going to see over $1 billion in tax cuts and $250 million for Enterprise Florida" by the time session ends. 

Gardiner said that while he agreed with the governor that money is available.  "There is plenty of money but there's also plenty of needs and that's where we have to kind of balance this,'' he said.