Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Negotiators Work to Avoid Budget Battle; the House Speaker Threatens to Halt Talks over Changes the Senate Has Proposed

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Negotiators Work to Avoid Budget Battle; the House Speaker Threatens to Halt Talks over Changes the Senate Has Proposed

Article excerpt

Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE and WALTER C. JONES

ATLANTA -- Budget negotiators from the House and Senate worked into the evening Tuesday in an effort to avoid a disruptive showdown that had endangered the life of several legislative proposals.

House Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, had threatened to all but shut down the chamber after publicly exposing a fierce showdown with the Senate over the spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

That was before his remarks jump-started negotiations between the two chambers. But a second round of face-to-face talks between the two sides had been delayed at least four times by Tuesday evening. Despite that, lawmakers said progress was being made.

Later in the day, the House was more conciliatory than Richardson's initial remarks, but leaders stood firm against changes in the courts and education budgets the Senate wants.

"If they don't want to adopt a budget, then we won't adopt a budget," Richardson said. He added moments later that he thought the logjam could be broken in time to pass a spending plan.

House Appropriations Chairman Ben Harbin, R-Evans, said the lower chamber was willing to discuss some of the changes the Senate had proposed. But he said those conversations would have to wait until the summer.

"You don't do it [at] the end of the session," he said.

The remarks earlier by Richardson marked a rare, public escalation of a showdown that had been brewing for several days.

In his speech, greeted with standing applause and cheers from Republicans and Democrats, Richardson vowed not to give in on a fierce argument with the Senate over the budget. In reply, Senators from both sides of the aisle applauded Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson when he vowed not to yield.

The clash seriously endangered efforts to bring the legislative session to an end by Thursday, and raised the possibility of a special session to finish the budget. The General Assembly's one constitutional responsibility is to draft a spending plan.

"It's time to quit playing games," Richardson said. "There are two days left. …

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