Florida Politics

Gov. Scott announces budget deal, special session

Gov. Rick Scott has agreed to sign the budget and a controversial House public education plan and bring the Legislature back in special session next week to inject more than $165 million into his top economic development priorities, as well as put about $200 million in additional funding for public schools.

The agreement, which was announced at a 10 a.m. news conference at Miami International Airport, was finalized late Thursday night after several days of backstage negotiations mostly involving House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Scott and their top staff members.

Lawmakers have agreed to boost public school spending by $210 million, bringing the total increase in this year’s state budget to $100 per student, Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, told the Herald/Times. That’s still less than half as much as Scott and the Senate originally sought earlier this year to boost school funding but it’s a significant increase from the extra $24.49 per student that the Legislature had in its approved budget — which critics had described as “starvation-level.”

They also will fund Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing program that was gutted in the Legislature’s original budget, at its current level of $76 million. And they will put $85 million into a new job-creation fund at the Department of Economic Opportunity, which would be used for infrastructure and other economic development costs, rather than to pay companies for bringing workers to Florida, which Corcoran has decried as “corporate welfare.”

All of that would be funded by more than $300 million in vetoes of member projects tucked into the state budget passed overwhelmingly by the House and Senate in early May.

“I’m really glad to see that House coming close the Senate’s thinking on Visit Florida, Enterprise Florida and public school funding,” said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, the Senate budget chief. “Thanks to the governor’s involvement, we are able to prevail on these positions.”

Lawmakers also broadly anticipate Scott will sign a charter-school-friendly $419 million schools bill that was a Corcoran priority. Corcoran noted that it is not part of the agreement reached with Scott and Senate President Joe Negron, but said he expects the governor to sign it..

“The governor’s history on choice is pretty clear,” Corcoran said. “We’re optimistic, and I’ve never known the governor not to be a man of his word.”

Scott, a two-term Republican who has loyally supported the school choice movement, had refrained from taking a position on HB 7069, but the issue incited a groundswell of criticism and opposition from parents and teacher groups.

As recently as an hour before the announcement, key lawmakers were unaware of the details of the deal.

Scott will call lawmakers back to Tallahassee in a special session, tentatively set for June 7-9. During that session, they plan to pass the budget changes and are expected to approve new legislation on Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, replacing strict restrictions that passed during the regular session but which Scott was reluctant to veto.

One notable issue, supported by 71 percent of Floridians, initially will not be part of special session: Medical marijuana.

Though lawmakers insist they will pass legislation implementing voters’ will before a key July 3 deadline, Corcoran said Friday morning they still do not have a deal on whether to cap the number of storefront dispensaries each licensed grower could open. That’s the same issue that caused the bill to break down in the final hours of the regular session.

If an agreement is reached, Corcoran and Negron plan to add medical marijuana to the special session later.

“The vetoes that were coming I believe were a fait d’accompli. The governor was going to be vigorous with his vetoes,’’ said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.

He added that despite the opposition to HB 7069, “with the increase funds to K-12 that really takes a lot of the concern away from the opponents.”

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@miamiherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @MaryEllenKlas

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