TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida's state employees avoided a pay cut but are facing a fifth straight year without an increase as negotiators agreed a few minutes before midnight Monday on a budget compromise that's expected to total about $68 billion.
House leaders dropped their plan for a 3 percent pay cut and accepted the Senate's position of no change in wages. Both sides, though, did agree to require about 27,000 mostly managerial employees - but also including legislators - to pay a small amount toward their health care insurance.
That was before talks were suspended for about eight hours while the House's chief negotiator, Rep. David Rivera, flew to Washington, D.C., to attend a fundraiser for his congressional campaign. The Miami Republican flew back on a chartered plane in time for an 11 p.m. budget meeting. Rivera denied negotiations were halted because of his fundraiser. He said legislative staffers needed the delay to crunch numbers and massage proviso language before a final meeting could be held. The deal was closed when Rivera accepted the Senate's proposal to spend $21 million on aid to public libraries, the minimum needed to draw down $9 million in federal matching money.
The House originally wanted to eliminate the library aid but later compromised at $11.7 million before finally agreeing to the full amount. Senate Ways and Means Chairman JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said he hoped state workers would feel good about the agreement he made with Rep. David Rivera, the House's appropriations chief. "You look at most private employees, I think they've been losing pay and benefits in great numbers," Alexander said. "If you compare comparable positions in private industry when you take base pay plus benefits I think they're pretty well taken care of."
The agreement comes in time to end the 60-day legislative session on schedule Friday. The compromise will be ready to distribute to lawmakers on Tuesday, giving them the required 72 hours to review it before a vote can be taken. The budget agreement, though, will not end negotiations over spending because Rivera and Alexender must complete implementing and conforming bills.