Final budget negotiations officially begin

Matt Dixon, (@Mdixon55)

And they’re off.

Budget-writers officially began final negotiations Monday night with a brief organizational session and a handful of subcommittee meetings.

Lawmakers will finalize a roughly $75 billion budget, but only $27 billion of that comes from the state’s general revenue fund, which lawmakers can do with as they please. Much of the state budget is federal money or tied to specific trust funds.

“This is not a partisan exercise, we are in this together,” said Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, when kicking off budget conferences.

He said the two chambers are already “very, very” close to having similar spending plans.

Earlier this session, the House and Senate put forward separate spending plans. Over the past few weeks, they have worked to come together on agreed upon spending levels, numbers referred to as “allocations.”

The early portion of negotiations will end April 23, with issues that could not be resolved by individual policy subcommittees being “bumped” to committee comprised of subcommittee chairs.

In order to pass the budget by the end of session, it will have to be hammered out by April 29 to accommodate the 72-hour “cooling off period.”

The committees will also consider 13 so-called “conforming bills,” which conforms state statute to comply with changes in the budget. Those bills, though, can be loaded up with goodies that become negotiating chips as part of behind-the-scenes budget negotiations.

At the end of a particularly hectic 2011 session, 43 conforming bills were filed, most of which lawmakers had no time to read.  Most acknowledged that many conforming bills, which can be thousands of pages, was bad for the process, and there has been fewer in recent years.

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