The Florida Legislature returns to Tallahassee for a special session Wednesday. With the House and Senate headed in opposite directions, the priorities of Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran are in big trouble.
Days after Senate President Joe Negron stood with Scott and Corcoran at a Miami airport press conference, the Senate wants to help hospitals, overturn Scott's vetoes of college and university spending and pay for a public school increase partly with property taxes from new construction. Corcoran on Tuesday called his fellow Republicans' tax idea a "massive property tax increase," a sign of a disaster in the making.
It gets worse. Irritated by Scott's line item vetoes, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, describes a Senate unified behind Negron and fed up with Corcoran scripting a deal to get what he wants: Scott's signature on HB 7069, the big education policy bill with its expansion of charter schools that came within one vote of defeat in the Senate.
That bill hovers over the Capitol like a dark cloud, with some senators having voted for it last month only because they thought Scott would veto it, which they now realize was a mistake. Now senators are asked to ratify a Scott-Corcoran deal on jobs, tourism and education to make it more likely Scott would sign 7069, and it sounds like all bets are off.
Latvala called the House's jobs and tourism bill (HB 1A) dead in the Senate and called Corcoran, a potential rival for governor, the most transactional politician he's ever seen in 15 years in Tallahassee. "Everything has a price," Latvala said. (Corcoran similarly views Latvala as purely transactional).
Put simply, Negron can't guarantee an outcome in his chamber the way Corcoran can in the House. Scott and Corcoran again may have underestimated the Senate's institutional reputation for independence.
Senators are territorial about hometown spending. They think Scott went too far with last week's line-item vetoes and it's going to come back to haunt him. For example, Scott vetoed $3 million for an arts program at Polk State College, a project that's important to former Senate Appropriations Chairman JD Alexander, who maintains close ties with a number of senators and has been making phone calls to express his dismay (There is not an identifiable statewide impact," Scott said in his veto message of June 2).
Breaking with Scott, Latvala criticized the governor for vetoing so many of his priorities in Tampa Bay. "It's a two-way street," Latvala said. "The governor sort of antagonized some of us with the actions he took vetoing our projects." He said that once again, Scott used his line item veto power without warning and with little or no explanation.
Finally, the Senate will insist that a revised K-12 budget must be available for review for 72 hours before a vote (the House disagrees with that position). "I think the Senate is on strong legal ground," Negron said Wednesday. "The 72-hour cooling-off period does apply. The Senate believes in strong fidelity to the Constitution."