The 2016 Florida legislative session was a much more conciliatory affair -- compared to last year's session that ended early and went to extra sessions. On Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott signed the $82.3 billion budget. He stuck to his earlier announcement of 256-million-dollars in line-item vetoes.
Why the governor announced so early what he was going to veto.
Timing seems to be everything here. You'll notice that he released this decision on the day of the primary election when most of the country was looking somewhere else. He didn't have a very good legislative session and there were a bunch of failures related to the budget that he didn't particularly want to emphasize.
This year it was $256 million in vetoes. Why fewer vetoes this year than last year?
This year there is also some significance in the amount that he vetoed. It's about $250 million, which is the total of the money he had asked for in a quick-action closing fund, which is a business incentive plan. The House and Senate refused to give him that money. And so he was making a political statement basically by vetoing the exact same amount.
There was a lot of tension last year between the legislature and the governor. How would you describe their relationship? Was this year just as contentious?
Not nearly as contentious. It's never going to be a love fest, you have to understand. This governor ran against the Republican Party, so he’ll never be one of the inner circle. But this year things were far different. He started out by approving a couple of bills that were the priorities of the House speaker and the Senate president. That was on the first day of the legislative session and it was meant to set up a more conciliatory tone. I think the entire legislature and the governor were embarrassed by the way the session ended last year. And they were very interested in sending a signal that they can actually get things done up here.
What about the relationship between the two chambers? What was that relationship like this year?
It was a little bit better than it was last session. If you recall, negotiations over the budget were so tense last year that the House speaker actually ended the session early and sent his members home, which is unprecedented or nearly unprecedented. This time they had some normal differences over the budget. But I think they were chastened by what happened last time and they resolved early to get along better.
The fact that this is a presidential election year, did that play any role on this session?
You know, there's been some speculation that the governor might actually be a running mate for contender Donald Trump and you'll notice that, yesterday, the governor announced that he was going to endorse Trump. To that extent it's played a role, but national politics and legislative politics, substantively, are on a different track.
If we could say there was one theme in last year’s session: Medicaid and Medicare and healthcare in general. Is there one theme that you could say kind of encapsulates this year’s session?
Well it's difficult to pin down to a single subject, but they started on the environment. The House speaker made a sweeping water policy bill, one of his highest priorities that passed in both chambers, on dedicating a lot of money to Everglades restoration. They also were faced with the problem of fixing the death penalty, the way Florida sentences people to death. So they came together for that. Those were a couple of the biggest issues. They also passed some abortion legislation which will be contentious but made it through.