- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 31, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran both said what they want to clean up during the coming legislative session - but Negron focused on waterways and college student finances while Corcoran is concentrating on state agencies.

The two legislative leaders, who are more than two months into their two-year terms, previewed their priorities on Tuesday ahead of the session, which begins on March 7.

Corcoran said he’s been alarmed by House and media inquiries into two public-private agencies - Visit Florida, which promotes the state as a tourist destination, and Enterprise Florida, which aims to get companies to relocate to the state. He compared his findings with switching on the light in a kitchen late at night.

“There’s cockroaches everywhere and you see that. Bonuses, severance packages, trips,” he said. “If there is one thing that scares me most about being here is that you have a fleeting amount of time. We only have limited time to make a transformative difference to benefit the state and people.”

Negron cited two bills being prepared for the session. One bill is aimed at getting students to graduate on time by expanding financial assistance, implementing flexible tuition policies and other incentives. The other deals with expanding funding for universities to recruit and retain faculty, enhance professional schools and improve infrastructure.

“I’m pleased with the progress we have made in making national elite universities a reality,” Negron said during the annual legislative preview meeting hosted by The Associated Press.

While Negron and Corcoran are in agreement on higher education, they differ on how to fund new water storage facilities south of Lake Okeechobee. Negron has proposed $100 million a year in bonds over 20 years to acquire 60,000 acres of land and build a reservoir to reduce discharges from the lake, which have caused algae blooms that have fouled beaches along the coast.

“Now we’re talking about when and how it should be done,” Negron said. “It is not just a regional issue. It’s important to the entire state and country.”

Corcoran said he is opposed to using bonds. Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s budget also does not have any funds for Negron’s plan.

Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon said he agrees that buying land and storing water south of the lake is important but also wants to examine all options.

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz said she didn’t see a problem with state spending or revenue, but that there is a problem with priorities.

Cruz said that she is still furious that Visit Florida gave a million dollars to rap star Pitbull to promote tourism, but also understands that the agency also has sought to attract more non-stop flights to international airports, like Tampa which she represents.

“I see both sides of the situation, but we still have teachers that are some of the lowest paid in the country. So maybe we make cuts on some of the enterprise money, maybe we take away pet projects from members and fund teachers,” she said.

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