Florida Politics

House Speaker: Horse-trading in budget is ‘bad policy’ — except when it isn’t

When Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran were asked two months ago if their legislative priorities in higher education and K-12 public schools, respectively, would end up becoming bargaining chips this session, Negron wouldn’t rule it out.

But Corcoran offered a definitive response: “No.”

And he’s now backing away from that — and making a key distinction — as the two chamber leaders have, indeed, agreed to horse-trade significant education policy in budget talks to ensure they get their priorities into law before the scheduled end of session on May 5.

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Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, told the Herald/Times in February: “No. What we’ve said in the House is that — and I’m, again, trying to change the culture — is: I don’t like the horse-trading stuff; that ends up in bad policy.”

“We’re not going to do any of that,” he added then, with this caveat: “If we like something that’s being championed by a House Republican, a House Democrat, a Senate Republican, a Senate Democrat, a governor or a Cabinet member that we think is good policy, that we think is good for the state, we’re going to own it. And we’re going to say ‘yes’; if that’s something we think we can get passed because they’re talking favorably about it, then we’ll own it and we’ll fight for it because it’s good public policy.”

But he said: “We’re trying to get away from [horse-trading]. I can’t — we [the House] can’t — govern the behavior of other entities, but I think that a lot of times all it takes is one chamber to say: ‘This is how we’ll behave.’ ”

Although the House is now on board with accepting the Senate’s higher education reforms, House members throughout session appeared to do little to champion Negron’s priorities, which include drastic increases to student financial aid programs. They, instead, focused more on Corcoran’s own missions: to hold the line on budget increases and to root out what representatives view as wasteful and excessive spending in higher education, such as state dollars that fund university foundations.

When Corcoran was reminded last week that he called horse-trading — in regards to K-12 and higher education reforms — “bad policy,” he defended the House and Senate’s intentions to now swap those top priorities in budget talks. He said “there’s a difference between respecting another chamber’s priorities” and strong-arming the other chamber or other lawmakers on unrelated measures or measures the other dislikes.

“The process always works best when both of them — to the extent that they agree that those are good policies — move forward,” he said Thursday.

“When I’m talking about horse-trading is when you ... say ‘Chairman Jones killed my ‘train’ bill,’ hypothetically, and then the immediate horse-trading response is, now over in the Senate or in the House, we’re going to kill Chairman Smith’s car bill. The reverse is on the positive side: I’m not giving you the ‘train’ bill unless you give me the [car] bill,” Corcoran told reporters. “To the extent that those things don’t take place is a good thing; it’s too heavy-handed.”

“But having the two chambers respect each other’s priorities and making sure that those are moving — I think those are important to both chambers and that’s how we get through all the sessions, for the last 20 years, 50 years,” he added.

When it came to the House’s desired reforms this year that affect K-12 public schools, the Senate has discussed and vetted the House’s top ideas, to varying degrees, throughout session.

The chamber has actively advanced some, such as a $214 million expansion of the Best & Brightest teacher bonuses, while others, like the $200 million “schools of hope” incentive for specialized charter schools, have more definitively come into play in the past couple weeks.

Kristen M. Clark: 850-222-3095, kclark@miamiherald.com, @ByKristenMClark