- Associated Press - Friday, June 2, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Seeking to end weeks of feuding and finger-pointing, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders agreed Friday to hold a three-day special session where legislators will boost money for schools and spend more on economic development efforts pushed by the governor.

Scott announced the initial details with House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron at a hastily-arranged press conference at the Miami International Airport.

“I think it’s a win for Florida families, which is the most important thing for me,” Scott said.

The special session, which could cost as much as $72,000 a day, will begin Wednesday.

The Republican governor, upset that legislators ignored many of his top priorities during the regular session that ended in May, warned he could veto a new state budget and force lawmakers back to the Capitol.

He had complained that GOP legislators were killing jobs and could wreck the state’s economy by their push for cuts to the state’s tourism marketing agency and the organization responsible for luring companies to the state.

Under the terms of the deal negotiated privately over the last few days, Scott agreed to sign the new budget. The governor did this late Friday, but not before he vetoed hundreds of millions in projects legislators had included in the budget.

Legislators in return have agreed to give Visit Florida the same level of money it received this year. Initially legislators had voted to slash money for the tourism marketing agency by two-thirds.

The state will also set aside $85 million to help lure companies, but the money cannot be used as incentive for a specific company. Instead, it will be spent on workforce training as well as public works projects such as roads.

During the special session, lawmakers will also pour in enough money to increase the amount spent on each public school student by $100 more.

The money to pay for the new spending will come from nearly $410 million in projects that Scott vetoed from the budget. Those vetoes targeted everything from road projects to state university programs and incentives to public schools that require uniforms. Scott also vetoed $37.4 million that was going to go to homeowners in two counties whose healthy citrus trees were torn down in a failed attempt to eradicate citrus canker.

Corcoran, who had railed against economic development spending as “corporate welfare,” insisted there has been a “meeting of minds” because the state will no longer offer money directly to one business.

“Just because there are two people who are warriors who fight for what they believe in doesn’t mean they can’t compromise,” Corcoran said. “We reached a nice common ground.”

The governor, however, refused to say whether or not the deal reached with legislators is contingent on him approving a sweeping education bill that was put together secretly in the waning days of the regular session.

“The only person who would know is me,” Scott told reporters.

The legislation is a top priority for Corcoran and would steer more state and local money to privately-run charter schools by creating a $140 million “Schools of Hope” program. The legislation (HB 7069) also mandates recess in elementary schools, expands virtual education courses to private and home schooled students, tweaks Florida’s testing system and includes bonuses for teachers.

School superintendents, parent-teacher groups and the state’s teacher union have been calling on Scott to veto the bill.

Corcoran, who has been considering a run for governor next year, said he was “optimistic” that the governor would sign it.

Democrats who opposed the education bill quickly lambasted Scott and Republicans. Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat, contended that Corcoran had reversed his position on economic development in order to get the education bill signed.

“He sold out all his positions to get this bill that screws over public schools,” Clemens said.

The three-day session does not right now include consideration of new rules for medical marijuana. Voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana last November but a legislative fight over who should be allowed to sell it derailed an effort to pass a bill during this year’s regular session.

Corcoran, in a memo to House members, said the item could still be added to next week’s session agenda if a deal is worked out.


Adriana Gomez Licon reported from Miami.

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