An on-time finish for the Florida Legislature's 2011 regular session was thrown into doubt Monday, as budget negotiators for the House and Senate squabbled over health care allocations.
Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, the upper chamber's chief budget negotiator, said there is "broad agreement" on most areas of the budget, but arguments over how and how much to fund health and human services have become a sticking point.
"If it takes a little more time, it takes a little more time, but we need to get these things taken care of properly," Alexander said.
Alexander and House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, who have tussled over budget battles before, warned that the session could go overboard before the chambers agreed to budget allocations.
The House and Senate are about $500 million apart, with the budget originally passed by the House $153 million over the allocations later agreed upon by both chambers, and the Senate is about $350 million short of allocations. The Senate wants to cut funding for the MEDS-AD program and reduce the Medically Needy program, both a part of Medicaid, which is funded at $21 billion, taking up nearly 30 percent of the budget. The $500 million difference is a small portion of the $67 billion overall budget figure.
Before ending Monday's floor action in the Senate, Alexander gave members an update on the negotiations, saying that the House won't budge from their $153 million over-allocation funding of HHS appropriations.
But Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, who has been leading the House side of the negotiations, had a different view of the proceedings.
Every House offer has been within the agreed upon and published allocations, and to suggest otherwise is misleading and untrue. The difference between the House and Senate HHS budgets is that the House is trying to level-fund critical needs and resolve deficits and the Senate is trying to fund political payback to special interests, member projects and early implement federal health-care reform, Grimsley said.
Still, Alexander held out a faint hope that the session could get by its scheduled end on Friday, but noted that a deal would have to be reached by Tuesday morning.
"It's still possible, but we would have to get a framework of how to conference the HHS budget very soon and then get about it," Alexander said.
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