Fla. Attorney General not budging on settlement
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is refusing to back down in her feud with the GOP-controlled Legislature when it comes to $300 million intended to help homeowners.
Bondi this week turned in her 2013 budget request to state legislators. She asked for various items including money for a new telephone system and money to hire more appeals attorneys.
But she did not ask legislators to give her spending approval of the state's share of a national $25 billion settlement with five of the nation's largest mortgage lenders.
The move means that the fate of the money remains in limbo with no clear sign of when the state will begin spending it.
Florida's share of the landmark settlement is separate from an estimated $8 billion that is expected to go to help homeowners and borrowers in the state. The settlement was finalized in early April. But since that time, Bondi has not announced any plans on how the state's share of the money would be spent.
Bondi has asserted that her office can spend the money without legislative approval. Legislative leaders, however, continue to insist that the Legislature has the power to make spending decisions.
Bondi has sidestepped many questions so far about the impasse. Instead she has insisted that she just wants the money to go to help those impacted by the foreclosure crisis.
"Hopefully we will able to have a resolution soon because homeowners need that relief," she said earlier this month. "I'm working I'm hard as I can. This money needs to go to homeowners. That's where it was meant to go and that's where it should go."
Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Lake Wales and top budget writer in the House, said in a statement that she was "hopeful an agreement" will be reached soon.
"We believe the Legislature has a role to play and we expect to have more details as soon as an agreement is reached," said Grimsley.
State agencies were required this week to turn in their 2013 spending requests — as well as a list of potential cuts — to legislators. The requests will be the framework used by both Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature when drawing up a final budget next spring.
Some of the other budget highlights include:
Substance abuse: The Department of Children and Families has asked lawmakers to spend an additional $22 million to help screen, assist and treat nearly 22,000 parents. The department states that substance abuse is a major contributing factor to child abuse and neglect.
A DCF spokesman, however, noted that the department is recommending cuts in other parts of its budget to pay for the increased funding for substance abuse.
Law enforcement: The Florida Department of Law Enforcement wants increased funding to hire more fingerprint analysts, hire more agents for a unit that uses electronic surveillance to track criminals, and purchase new equipment used to test DNA samples.
Environment: The Department of Environmental Protection has asked for $50 million for Everglades restoration as well as $50 million for the state's conservation land buying program known as Florida Forever. But instead of seeking of new money for Florida Forever the agency is asking for permission to sell existing state-owned conservation lands to generate the money.
Patrick Gillespie, a spokesman for the agency, defended the decision to not recommend any new funding for the program. Gillespie noted that there is currently $65 million in available money for Florida Forever despite a decision in recent years by legislators to curtail money for the program.
"We've got land available we can sell in order to purchase conservation land," he said. "We can do that in a fiscally responsible way."
Earlier this month former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham and others launched an effort to place a constitutional amendment on the 2014 ballot that would set up a dedicated source of money to pay for land conservation efforts.