As this year's legislative session draws to a close, the second in a row that ignores Medicaid expansion, lawmakers are patting themselves on the backs while they celebrate a $1.2 billion budget surplus. You know what that means. It's like Christmas in April for money-grubbing lawmakers and their hometown pet projects.
Here's some highlights on those wish lists:
"Think about it: What's the average size of member projects, $200,000?" said Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach. "Divide that into a billion. That's a whole lot of projects … a lot of lawmakers are going to be happy."
Some projects are relatively small: A $350,000 fountain in the state's richest town, Palm Beach, and $123,000 for a dog park in an affluent Jacksonville neighborhood. Others are big: $12 million for House Speaker Will Weatherford's alma mater, the private Jacksonville University, and $3 million for an industrial park in Walton County.
...The surplus $1.2-billion is being spent in a way that offers the public few clues as to where it is going and why.
On Tuesday night, negotiators printed and distributed the budget to lawmakers, who are constitutionally required to pass it by 11:59 p.m. Friday. Hours before publication, a flurry of projects were being inserted, including $2 million for Lauren's Kids, a charity run by the daughter of powerful lobbyist Ron Book. The night before, negotiators announced millions in projects that previously hadn't been in either the House or Senate budgets.
Former state Sen. Steve Geller, a Democrat from Broward County, said legislative leaders use the budget to win votes for their highest priorities.
...Environmentalists groused that Senate Appropriations chair Joe Negron, R-Stuart, steered $82 million to his top priorities, Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee, at the expense of statewide needs.
As they ignore what Floridians actually want and need, these legislators boast at the end of the session and strut around like heroes, patting themselves on the back for a job well done while they unveil portraits of themselves as if they're kings.
Note this one in particular, who thinks quite highly of himself and never misses a chance to point out what a great guy he is to everyone else:
Member projects may not require a lot of public explanation, but they do offer winning legislators bragging rights.
At a dinner last week for the conservative James Madison Institute, Weatherford and Gaetz made an announcement.
"We've been working together to create an endowed chair of free enterprise and entrepreneurship,'' Weatherford told the applauding crowd. "We're happy to do that together in honor of a great man.''
That would be Charlie Hilton, the mentor of Weatherford's father-in-law, former House Speaker Allan Bense. At the time of the announcement, neither chamber had the item budgeted. Only later did the $600,000 for the endowed chair at Florida State University appear.
That's Republican Will Weatherford, the House Speaker, and the man standing in the way of expanding Medicaid for Floridians who are dying without it every day.
The man whose own family got help from Medicaid when he was a child and his brother was very sick.
The man who says "we can't afford" to accept federal funds already paid by taxpayers at no additional cost to expand Medicaid, but who somehow at the last minute was able to dig up $600,000 of your money to suck up to his father in-law.
The same man who rushed to grab his share of the surplus to secure $15 million.
The cost to Floridians, besides death, if Weatherford hadn't personally blocked Medicaid?
Because what could be more important, saving lives at no cost, or fountains and dog parks with hefty price tags, $15 million for Weatherford and a $600,000 high-five to the guy who made it possible for him to gain power and get to where he is today, a very rich man with several incomes (for what, we don't know) who sticks it to the poor, and rubs salt into their wounds while he cashes in their chips?
I would say you can't stoop much lower than that, but Weatherford still has a day to go.