Politics

State House, Senate Negotiators Inch Toward Final Budget

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Top negotiators from the state’s House and Senate have reached deals on a number of big tickets items in a $74 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1st.

They still, however, face a weekend slog through the fine print that could determine how some of the money is spent.

House Appropriations Chairman Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, and Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, reached a deal to essentially finalize the spending for the health care and criminal justice portions of the budget. That leaves only a series of statewide spending issues unresolved after a Friday deal that handled education, economic development, and agriculture and the environment.

But the language of the budget, which can determine who benefits from that spending and by how much, still has to be hammered out by a Tuesday deadline for a deal to pass on Friday, as scheduled.

“I think you to have resolve the numbers first, and I think we’re doing that,” McKeel said.

Lawmakers also have to agree on the language of several budget-related bills, though those can be finished later and allow the Legislature to end its 2013 session on time.

The Saturday morning agreement on health-care issues brought the two sides closer to a resolution on a new way of reimbursing hospitals for the services they provide to Medicaid patients. The details of that formula — known as diagnosis related groups, or DRGs — still have to be worked out.

But the Senate agreed to spend almost $88.3 million to help safety net hospitals, such as public hospitals, cope with the change. The Senate initially had no money for the change, while the budget approved by the House would have spent $104 million.

Tony Carvalho, president of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, said safety net hospitals would likely still lose some funding, but the hospitals came out fairly well considering the Senate’s starting point.

“Splitting the difference, which happens a lot in this process, would have been hurtful,” he said. “They went way beyond splitting the difference.”

Carvalho said he was still disappointed by a decision to take 10 percent of the federal matching funds earned by county taxes in parts of the state and send the money to a statewide pot, which he called a “huge philosophical precedent.” But the Senate had initially asked for 45 percent of those funds to be diverted.

Negron and McKeel also agreed on several smaller issues in the justice budget. But they have not yet agreed on raises for state employees, for example.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

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