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Lack of agreement on tax cuts stalls Tallahassee budget talks

The Florida Legislature has exactly two weeks to agree on a state budget for the 2016 session to end on time, and Senate leaders said Tuesday they have not made much progress with the House on a key question: the size of a tax cut package.

That stumbling block means legislative leaders cannot yet agree on the size of allocations for various programs. Until those amounts are set, the Senate and House cannot appoint budget conferees and schedule public negotiating sessions.

Despite an obvious lack of progress, Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said the Legislature remains ahead of schedule and there's still plenty of time to reach an agreement.

"We're not totally under the gun yet, but we are getting to the point where we need to start making some decisions," Gardiner told reporters after the Senate adjourned early Tuesday afternoon. "We want to make sure that it (the budget) is properly vetted and we're not rushing near the end."

Last year, budget negotiations erupted in controversy when lawmakers added scores of hometown projects to the budget at a late night meeting. Senators and House members drew widespread media criticism for a lack of transparency and Gov. Rick Scott later vetoed many of those projects.

One of dozens of areas where lawmakers need to find consensus is whether to use anticipated settlement money from the BP oil spill for economic development to help pay for Scott's $250 million fund to attract jobs.

The Senate wants to allocate $100 million for that purpose and the House has not agreed to the idea. "There's no agreement on any of that stuff," Gardiner said.

Under the Constitution, a final budget must be accessible to lawmakers for 72 hours before they can take a final vote on it. That means a final budget agreement must be reached by Tuesday, March 8.