Some state projects are more equal than others

Published: Sunday, May 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 30, 2005 at 5:09 p.m.
It's not what you know or who you know when it comes to getting your hometown project funded by the Florida Legislature. Sometimes, it's where you live.
For example, Bay County is a fine place to live this year if you want state money. The home county of House Speaker Allan Bense, R-Panama City, finds itself not having to scrape as hard.
When the House and Senate budget negotiators met last week to begin resolving dozens of differences big and small, three were immediately taken care of: The Senate agreed to extra money for the Florida State University campus in Panama City and a Bay High program.
Another program among the first the Senate acceded to was a Palatka project to secure an emergency shelter. Who lives in Palatka? House Education Appropriations chairman Joe Pickens.
Other projects from around the state will be included in the massive $64 billion budget, but some are more equal than others.
Senate Education Appropriations chairman J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said he agreed to fund the three projects rapidly to "send a signal" that negotiations would be respectful.
Asked if the ability to fund projects in influential lawmakers' districts was part of the grease for negotiations, Pickens demurred.
"I can't say that's an inaccurate statement," he said.
Bense, who has virtual veto power over lawmaking decisions, made funding for member's hand-picked projects part of his negotiations with Senate President Tom Lee, R-Brandon, as the two leaders haggled over budget allocations.
"Our House members have worked their rear ends off all session long to try to get their projects in the mix," he said.
Told that his hometown projects had been quickly approved, Bense smiled.
"Well, that's good," he said. No more trading? While hometown projects can help the budget negotiations, another time-honored legislative technique - horse trading priority bills - can help resolve other major issues.
One legislative leader trades one of his priorities for a priority of the opposing leader. In Latin, it's called quid pro quo, or this for that.
Yet true to his maverick character, Senate President Tom Lee says he'd like to do away with the end-of-session horse trading on big bills. He has already told the House that he is not interested in winning House approval of his lobbyist reform bill if it means he has ram through the Senate a series of bills limiting liability lawsuits that House leaders favor.
"I want to be very, very careful not to set up a series of quid pro quos to resolve the priorities of both chambers," Lee said.
Lee said he remains sensitive and respectful of the House's priorities, acknowledging that he would do what he could to help their passage by allowing a floor vote. But he said he wasn't prepared to twist the arms of his members for individual bills.
On the other hand, he said he expects no more from the House when addressing his issues such as lobbying reforms or growth management.
"I would ask no more than I would offer," he said."I'm not asking the speaker to whip anybody or leverage anybody," he added. "I don't want my legislation passing because that has to happen. Members can go home and explain why they voted against this stuff, or why they voted for it, and their conscience is clean. That's all I would ever ask."
Lee said he is willing to take that stand even if it means some of his priorities may fail.
"I'm prepared for this to shift from a dysfunctional legislature to a do nothing legislature if it means that I have to leverage the members of my chamber to vote for things that defy their consciences," Lee said.
But Lee also said changing the legislative mindset takes time. Last week, three senators approached him about voting against an insurance bill that the president clearly favored.
"I told them to vote your conscience," Lee said. "And that's all I ever ask them to do."
Joe Follick and Lloyd Dunkelberger of The Sun Tallahassee Bureau contributed to this report.

POLITICS on Page 4G Continued from 1G POLITICS:

Lee not big on quid pro quos

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