By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.
THERE IT IS.
When the final history of the 2017 Legislative Session is written, it is very possible that Tuesday, April 4, marked the turning point in the annual lawmaking period. Because of what transpired yesterday, it’s much more likely that the House and Senate gavel out on time rather than go in to an extended session or have to call for a special session to hammer out a budget agreement.
With Senate President Joe Negron and Sen. Rob Bradley agreeing to scale back the project’s acreage while still storing between 100 billion and 120 billion gallons of water by increasing the reservoirs’ depth to 14 feet, it’s now possible to game out how the 2017 Session concludes.
News of the compromise was first reported by the Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas. And as soon as her story flashed across the Twitterverse, capital insiders knew a turning point had arrived.
“The amendment is just a recognition, again, of what the No. 1 goal of this legislation is. And that is to have additional southern storage to reduce and, hopefully, one day eliminate the discharges,” Negron said. “That’s the indispensible component of this issue.”
By “discharges,” Negron meant what Bradley calls the toxic, algae-laden “guacamole water” that issued from the lake in June, sickening both people and the tourism economy along waterways.
The total cost of the plan would shrink from $2.4 billion to $1.5 billion, saving money by building the project on land already owned by the state, or where private landowners agree to sell or lease to the state.
Honestly, none of those details are important to anyone not living near the Caloosahatchee River. What is important is that the Senate President appears ready to deal.
Look into these eyes and you’ll see a man who knows when to cut a deal. First it was for the Senate presidency; on Tuesday it was for his top legislative priority. Photo credit: Phil Sears.
Richard Corcoran‘s House should and will go along with Negron’s new plan because it a) does not include any bonding during the first year and b) doesn’t include exercising an option to purchase land from U.S. Sugar.
In exchange, the House should get its top priorities: a lot of funding for charter schools and not much funding for Enterprise Florida or VisitFlorida. The House will also probably get some sort of legislation that puts a hurting on the judicial branch, while both chambers — each led by attorneys inclined to support the trial bar — will back a host of other legislation — AOB “reform,” workers’ comp — that basically favors the folks at the Florida Justice Association over the good people of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
Meanwhile, believe it or not, clearing the impasse over the Lake O. proposal may also pave the way for something to be done about gambling. A court ruling on Tuesday — one that could lead to more gaming expansion, if only by default — is the latest reminder that bureaucrats and judges are regulating the gambling industry, not lawmakers. With some extra bandwidth afforded by Negron’s willingness to compromise on Lake O., it’s possible another compromise could be reached on the Seminole Compact, slots, and the so many other issues which have been left unattended by the Legislature.
Horse-trading will abound on
Of course, it’s not all puppy dogs and rainbows. There are a thousand different ways the 2017 Session could implode.
First of all, Governor Rick Scott says he will not accept a budget that zeroes out funding for Enterprise Florida. His ally in the Senate on this issue, Sen. Jack Latvala, is in charge of one-half of the appropriations process and could be an obstacle. But maybe Latvala goes along to get along with a low budget number for EFI if the House gives in to him on the rest of his budget priorities.
Senate President Joe Negron discusses a bill to prevent toxic discharges from overflowing out of Lake Okeechobee as Sen. Jack Latvala listens. Photo credit: Phil Sears.
After all, what will it accomplish for Scott if he vetoes the budget only to see a unified Legislature override said veto?