Florida Backroom Briefing: Conservative? Time Will Tell

TALLAHASSEE — While House members have proposed spending more than $7 billion on projects and programs, Speaker Paul Renner is pushing “conservative” spending as the budget is put together over the next two months.

“We’re going to continue on the path we’re on,” Renner said Wednesday at a Florida Chamber of Commerce event. “We’re going to be conservative on the budget this year, even though we don’t have to, because doing it now means that we’ll be in the catbird seat when a downturn comes.”

It remains to be seen what that means for more than 2,800 projects and programs, from assisting cultural organizations to building educational facilities and railroad right-of-way, that House members are seeking to fund — at a total cost of $7.1 billion.

Separately, 2,200 proposals, many overlapping with the House, have been submitted by senators, carrying an overall $5.2 billion price tag.

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Those requests are on top of tens of billions of dollars in big-picture spending on programs such as schools, health care, prisons and transportation.

Last year, senators made 2,288 requests, totaling $5.63 billion, while House members made 2,333 requests that would have required $5.36 billion.

More than 1,500 legislator requests made it in the budget that lawmakers sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis last spring. The governor vetoed $510.9 million in spending, including 309 individual lawmaker projects totaling $324.3 million.

DeSantis has pitched a $114.4 billion budget for the 2024-2025 fiscal year, which will start July 1. Lawmakers will use that proposal as a starting point as they negotiate a budget during the legislative session that started Tuesday.


Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, gave each member of the Senate a personalized mirror as a gift to open the session.

“Just as our families keep us grounded, mirrors keep us honest,” Passidomo said in her opening remarks. “Tallahassee is an easy place to find fair-weather, or as I call them, ‘temporary’ friends, who compliment our looks and laugh at all of our jokes. When we look in the mirror, we see ourselves for who we really are. We remember where we came from and what we are fighting for. I hope the mirrors will be a beautiful, yet practical addition to your office or home.”

Last year, Passidomo handed out copies of “Path of the Panther: New Hope for Wild Florida” as part of her successful proposal to link hiking and biking trails to a statewide wildlife corridor. The book is by Carlton Ward Jr., a photographer who helped inspire the bill (SB 106), which provided $200 million and increased money from vehicle-registration fees to help join the Shared-Use Nonmotorized, or SUN, Trail Network to the wildlife corridor.

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Passidomo touted a “big tent approach” as the 2024 session opened, but Democrats who are badly outnumbered by Republicans hold a different view.

Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Sunny Isles Beach, questioned why he often hears Republicans promote themselves as “fighting” for their proposals when for two decades they have held the governor’s mansion and legislative and Cabinet majorities.

“Some of this is like I’ve gone to the movies nowadays and there’s no original ideas in here anymore,” Pizzo told reporters on Monday.

“We should be focusing on sanitary sewer or septic-to-sewer conversion, roadways, quality of life and neighborhoods, things that are truly nonpartisan,” Pizzo said. “And that’s what we should be doing. But the kumbaya moment is you know, there’s some hostage situations over on the other side of the aisle and very often … we mediate and provide therapy.”


Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, pointed to numbers released in December by The Heartland Institute and Rasmussen Reports to defend a controversial bill that would place restrictions on who may cast ballots by mail.

“I think that voting in person is the absolute safest way of voting,” Ingoglia said of his proposal (SB 1752), which was filed Friday. “And anything outside of voting in-person, there is going to be risk.”

A Rasmussen poll showed 21 percent of respondents acknowledging filling out at least part of a ballot on behalf of a friend or family member, such as a spouse or child. Also, 17 percent said they signed a ballot or ballot envelope on behalf of a friend or family member.

The report from Heartland said many states allow people to assist others with voting. More concerning was that another 8 percent claimed to have been offered a payment or reward for voting by “a friend, family member, or organization.”

But Ingoglia’s bill has a difficult path, as Passidomo and House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, voiced opposition to the measure on Tuesday.

While mail-in voting is now broadly available, the bill would allow it only for certain groups, such as people who would be absent from their home counties, people who have illnesses or disabilities that prevent them from going to polling places and members of the military stationed overseas. Also, it would require that vote-by-mail ballots be requested for each election and would limit where the ballots can be dropped off to elections supervisors’ main and branch offices.

Political and legal battles about voting by mail have repeatedly flared in recent years, after the method was heavily used during the 2020 elections — particularly by Democrats.

SOCIAL MEDIA POST OF THE WEEK: “It’s the honor of a life, now let’s #KeepFloridaWinning!” — lobbyist and Leon County Republican Party Chairman Evan Power (@EvanPower), upon being elected chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

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