Florida lawmakers reached dozens of fine-print spending decisions Sunday as they rush toward Tuesday's deadline to finish work on a state budget.
The Legislature's two budget chairmen, Sen. Tom Lee and Rep. Richard Corcoran, rejected across-the-board pay increases for all state workers, but they did OK raises for select groups of employees, including $2,000 for forestry firefighters and $2,000 for certain groups of inspectors in DBPR, among others. They also rejected Gov. Rick Scott's plan for a performance based program of bonuses for state workers.
Scott's veto of the same firefighter pay raise last year touched off a furor with Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and the governor has not said whether he would OK the raises this year.
With lawmakers holed up in the state Capitol, Scott was in Washington over the weekend at the annual Gridiron Dinner by the press corps in the nation's capital, where he sat at the table of the McClatchy Company, parent company of The Miami Herald.
The Legislature is giving Scott $1.8 million to competitively bid a contract for a new automated travel management system for all state agencies and the courts. Corcoran said the goal is for state employees' travel records to be online for citizens to see, as a way to "clean up state government and make it more accountable for the people,"
The budget also will include a $200,000 study of whether to move the 2nd District Court of Appeal from Lakeland to Tampa.
Lee said progress on budget talks slowed Saturday because of a "vendor fist fight" on a perennial big-dollar issue involving a contract for purchases of police radios. The Senate did not accept a House offer to spend another $7 million to replace radios under an existing state contract with Melbourne-based Harris Corp. that's due to expire in five years and is sure to be the subject of a fierce fight with Motorola and other firms. Separate budget language has a provision helpful to incumbent vendor Harris that requires the state, in evaluating bid proposals, to consider "any respondent's ability to leverage existing resources to the public's best interest." The Department of Management Services must give the Legislature 90-day progress reports on the progress of seeking new bids.
"We've worked out some language that we think is as competitively neutral as possible," Lee said, "but it took a good long while to get there."
Finally, this might have looked like the Legislature's idea of a cruel joke, but staff members say it was a "scrivener's error."
Budget documents show a whopping pay raise of $50,000 for all seven Supreme Court justices, to $212,200. But staffers clarified that it was a typo and that justices' salaries will stay the same for one more year, at $162,200. The Senate spent much of the past year publicly critical of the court for its decisions critical of lawmakers' redrawing of Senate and congressional districts.