Incoming Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville) on Friday said she was stunned by the ongoing inability of the Republican legislative leadership to reach an agreement with the Seminole Tribe over gaming in Florida, and alarmed by the suggestion of an expensive special session to deal with the unresolved issue.
“This was not a sudden development, or a last-minute problem we needed to confront,” said Gibson, who also serves on the Senate Regulated Industries committee. “We were on notice before the gavel first sounded in January that failing to address gaming could blow a $300 million hole in the budget. It’s becoming more and more difficult to explain to taxpayers why three months after the session convened, the budget that was passed remains in jeopardy because it was built on incomplete, non-transparent information.”
At issue is the sudden announcement last night by incoming Senate President Bill Galvano that a special session might be required due to a loss of revenue should the Republican legislative leadership continue to reach an impasse with the Seminole Tribe over gaming.
But as Senator Gibson noted, not only was there ample time in the first month of session to resolve any issues, but little information was made available to lawmakers warning them that the collapse of negotiations would threaten the state spending plan for the coming year.
“This should have been resolved before we adjourned,” said the incoming Leader. “One full year after talks began on an agreement with the Seminoles, the subject was barely discussed until the last days of session when the budget conference was convened, too late for any real chance to pass a bill. So not only does last night’s announcement underscore the lack of transparency as the budget was assembled, but the need for a solid agreement before any calls for a special session potentially costing hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars are issued.
“And, if a special return to Tallahassee is required, I strongly urge that the gaming revenue is not the only issue we deal with, but a more thorough vetting of the measly $0.47 the legislature budgeted as an increase in funding per student for the coming year. Both should be on the table.”