The Florida Legislature’s Special Session: A Game of Cat and Lizard

The Florida Legislature’s Special Session: A Game of Cat and Lizard

Today, the towels are hung back on the rack and the Florida House and Senate begin a special session that must produce one piece of legislative fruit in order to avert chaos: a balanced budget for the coming fiscal year.

I feel like I’ve just written the first line of a GEICO commercial, and you, dear reader, are responding, “Everybody knows that.”

What it seems that no one knows is how the seemingly irreconcilable differences between the House, the Senate and the governor will produce a budget that can win a majority in both chambers and secure the governor’s signature.

The default position in our particular system of representative democracy is that nothing changes. This is, in fact, exactly what the drafters of the U.S. Constitution intended, based on the best available evidence. James Madison’s Federalist #10 makes clear that, to the Founders, only a government designed with an array of obstacles to action can be relied upon not to deprive people of their liberty. Only when an idea has mustered enough support to pass both chambers of the legislature and avoid the president’s veto pen (or be so overwhelmingly popular in the chambers that they can erase the veto) can that idea become law.

The structure of state governments across this country seems to reflect that same conviction.

If we apply the basic truth of inaction to the current situation in Tallahassee, the broad outlines of an outcome can be imagined. I’d say it looks something like this:

  • Each chamber will “entertain” some legislative proposals put forward by the other chamber in the same manner that a cat “entertains” a captive lizard (this is Florida, after all). They won’t be treated as DOA, but they will be just as dead when the entertaining is done.
  • Both chambers will vote to accept the federal LIP money being offered.
  • The governor’s plan for redistribution of LIP money will be another lizard in the cat’s paws. When the House and Senate are done with the LIP allocation, it will bear little resemblance to the governor’s plan (and be closer to what we have been doing, possibly with some tweaks toward hospitals important to more powerful members of the Legislature), but they will deliver it to his desk in the same way the family cat might plop that unrecognizable lizard carcass on the kitchen floor. And, after perhaps finding a line item or two related to LIP funding to veto, the governor will be compelled to accept it.
  • Both chambers will find a way to adopt some sort of tax cut, and the governor will proclaim it one of his successes of the session.
  • A balanced budget will pass before the fiscal year ends.

In the end, though our elected leaders will proclaim their success with much ceremony and mutual praise, nothing much related to the state’s budget priorities and investments will have changed.

Tune in next session for more of the same.

This isn’t about good or bad political leaders. This is about the way our Legislature’s representatives are elected, the way its leaders are elected, and the amount of discretionary power those leaders wield during their brief stay at the summit.

And it’s about a governor who ran against the party that controls the Legislature and, in a sense, continues to operate as though he is an insurgent running against the establishment in his own party.

Which, perhaps, he is.

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