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House and Senate to Begin Budget Conference Tonight

The final stumbling block impeding budget conference sessions from moving forward between the House and Senate has been cleared, House Speaker Dean Cannon said Tuesday afternoon.

Hopefully, well begin sometime this evening, Cannon said of the talks to reconcile the approximately $70 billion budgets from each chamber.

A news release a short time later set the first conference meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

A pending cut to higher education was seen as a stumbling block that could push approval of Floridas budget beyond the regular session that is scheduled to end March 9.

The difference in how to draw money from the states universities to help patch a $1.4 billion shortfall in the proposed $70 billion budgets from both chambers was considered a big enough hindrance that senators Tuesday reiterated their bipartisan support from the start of the session for President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, to delay -- if necessary the session for the budget process.

Sens. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and Chris Smith, D-Oakland Park, had gathered the signatures of fellow senators at the start of session as a sign of support, giving Haridopolos the discretion to hold off the budget process while awaiting updated revenue projections to be made closer to the start of the next fiscal year.

Smith and Gaetz repeated they are united on the budget. Gaetz said Tuesday he would support remaining into the Tallahassee spring.

While the bridge on higher education has yet to be announced, the Senate has been looking to use $300 million from undesignated reserves to be drawn out of the 11 state universities, while the House has included $200 million in recurring academic programs for the university cuts.

Before Cannons announcement, legislators noted the time is growing short to begin the conference meetings.

Its getting razor thin, said Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, who heads the Senate Budget Committee. We need to resolve this in the coming hours or well start to run out of runway.

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