On Dec. 17, almost three months before the annual legislative session began, new Senate President Andy Gardiner met with reporters in the conference room of his Capitol office. He talked with the press for 30 minutes, touching on a wide variety of issues, including a plan by business groups and others that would use Medicaid expansion dollars to help lower-income Floridians purchase private health insurance.
“I think it’s intriguing,” Gardiner said, though he expressed continuing concern about how willing the federal government would be to grant the state flexibility in setting up a plan.
That lukewarm statement of support was the first indication of what would become the defining issue in a legislative session most notable for gridlock, dysfunction and inaction in the wake of a meltdown between the House and the Senate. Because of an inability to come to agreement on a spending plan for the budget year that begins July 1, lawmakers will have to return to Tallahassee in the coming weeks for a special session to carry out their one constitutionally required annual duty.
A review of the events of the regular session — including interviews with some key players in the House-Senate row — show how negotiations broke down: Dramatic miscalculations of each other’s motives and willingness to force a showdown conspired with the tight deadline of a 60-day session to derail lawmakers’ plans. And it gives indications of the pitfalls the Legislature must avoid if it hopes to end the month of June with a budget and avoid a shutdown that could further sap Floridians’ faith in the ability of their elected officials to lead.