The 2017 session kicked off on Tuesday amid the usual pomp and circumstance and rows of desks overflowing with flowers, but this time around - there is a sense of apprehension about whether or not the schism between Republicans Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran as well as the building tension between the House and Senate will result in a dysfunctional session that spirals out of control.
So realizing that any predictions this session is a risky business, here in no particular order are the 5 biggest questions of the session:
1. How hard will be it to pass a new state budget? The one job for Tallahassee legislators is of course the passage of a new spending plan. A lot of time and energy has already been spent on the fate of Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing arm, and Enterprise Florida, the entity set up to recruit businesses to the state. The latest House plan calls for the elimination of Enterprise Florida and the imposition of stringent new rules on Visit Florida.
But in reality that's just a small part of the work that lies ahead.
Scott, the House and Senate are on a collision course. Scott says the state has plenty of money to do what he wants including a $618 million tax cut. Senate leaders say they can pass a budget that boosts spending on school financial aid and pays for Senate President Joe Negron's plan to acquire land south of Lake Okeechobee. The House meanwhile is planning to move ahead with a budget that includes a substantial boost in funding for low-income charter schools, while slashing other spending more than $1 billion and holding the line on local property taxes. (Scott uses this rise in local property taxes to help pay for a boost in school spending.)
The argument coming from the House - and reinforced in Corcoran's opening day speech - is that the state is spending too much (while at the same time contending that past years of tax cuts did not play a role) and that drastic action must be taken to make sure the budget will not be massively out of balance in the next two or three years.
There are some observers who contend that last week's agreement between Negron and Corcoran on a new budget rule regarding new projects is a good sign that shows Corcoran is capable of compromise.
But that new rule doesn't solve the math problem.
And this tug-of-war over spending could easily grind the session to a halt, or worse, force legislators into overtime.
It wouldn't be a surprise if the House goal is put together a budget that forces Scott to make difficult decisions - including the elimination of Enterprise Florida. Will the Senate keep its budding alliance with Scott and resist? Or will Scott be forced to actually consider vetoing the budget and in a moment sure to command plenty of press attention - order legislators back to Tallahassee to pass a budget that he says doesn't crash the economy?
Another pivotal budget item: The $300 million that the state received from the Deepwater Horizon settlement that is supposed to go to eight North Florida counties. The money was received last year but it still hasn't gone out the door. It's gotten a bit lost in the mix, but this item could prove crucial in the final mix. Negron, during his opening day press conferences, started out his remarks by warning that the Senate will not go along with a House proposal to place limits on how the money is spent. That bill initially placed firm legislative controls on the spending, but then it was amended. It's now parked in a committee that cancelled its meeting this week.
And without going into great detail - the longer the budget impasse is unresolved the more control actually shifts to Scott. He has several administrative tools in his hands that he can use to keep state government open - and control state spending - if legislators are actually unable to reach a final deal by July 1.
2. What does Richard Corcoran really want? Say this for Mr. Speaker - he has befuddled a lot of people.
Part of it is that Corcoran is a skilled political operative who knows all about leverage and negotiations. Corcoran's showdown with Scott over economic development and contracts as well as his crackdown on lobbyists has led to speculation about his true motives and true intentions and a looming bid for higher office.
A bid for governorship may be ultimately where he winds up.
But those who know him closely contend that Corcoran's wish list - which includes term limits for Supreme Court justices and appeals court judges as well as help for low-income charter schools - is not just window dressing.
And understand this: Corcoran not only has supporters in the House, but he also has quietly built up backing in the Senate as illustrated by his appointment this week of Sen. Tom Lee to the Florida Constitution Revision Commission. Lee has made it clear that he is a "free agent" during the upcoming session.
If you look closely it appears that Corcoran may have sway with a handful of Senate Republicans, which means he may have some leverage in the "deliberative Senate." And it also creates one side-item of speculation (consider it question 2A) - Will Negron have to rely on Democrats in order to get his agenda passed?
Corcoran also appears willing to try another legislative tactic and that's to put a lot of things into motion. He outlined many of his top priorities in his opening day remarks (or call to arms) but the House keeps pumping out new issues, whether it's an overhaul of the Public Service Commission, limits on local government taxes. There are promises to keep pressure on the judiciary and who knows there may be more lawsuits in play.
It makes harder, however, to keep a tally on what's really important to him. And maybe that's the goal.
3. Will the sugar industry win again? Negron's Lake O plan has already drawn a wide share of detractors - including from those in Florida's powerful sugar industry. As anyone who follows Florida politics knows, the state's sugar companies have strong political connections and wield a great deal of influence. Many leaders - including Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam - have already said they are opposed to Negron's plan as costly and unnecessary.
There is also a full-on public relations battle going on with public relations firms cranking out press releases that are then reinforced through coverage in various online outlets. Much of it may not reach into other parts of the state but it will increase pressure inside the beltway and inside the Capitol building.
The battle over the Lake O plan has already forced Negron to step down from the Gunster law firm because U.S. Sugar is a client of the firm.
But Corcoran said during a recent appearance at a Tallahassee private school that he was actually open to considering the plan, although he warned that legislators could get bogged down discussing the actual details of the proposal that calls for borrowing money in order to finance the acquisition. Corcoran's receptiveness to Negron's proposal caused a bit of a ripple through the Capitol.
Negron and Senate Republicans are already tinkering with the plan so that may be seen as a sign that it's still an uphill battle. Still it's safe to assume this issue will remain in play until the very end.
4. How relevant will Gov. Scott be in this year's session? Since he arrived in 2011 Scott has had an up-and-down relationship with his fellow Republicans in the Legislature. It's complicated his ability to get his agenda carried out. (Case in point -some may not remember he wanted nearly $2 billion in cuts to education his first year, a two-year budget and giant tax cuts.)
But there's no doubt this year is different as Corcoran and Scott have traded videos and barbs over the House's push to scuttle Enterprise Florida and trim back Visit Florida. Scott has vigorously defended the programs and has called out by name House members opposed to his agenda and launched robo-calls in their districts.
Among the items in the governor's favor is Scott's bond with President Donald Trump, which of course gives him a really important ally. (Will it count? Who knows, but it's worth noting.)
Scott has also taken time to try to strengthen his relationship with the Senate, as evidenced by his visit on Monday night to a private reception hosted by Sen. Jack Latvala, the Senate budget chief. And so far the Senate has been more supportive of the governor, although Scott's tax cut package may be a tough sell due to budget constraints.
The governor also gained a bit of additional leverage with the announcement that Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater was stepping down after session. Now Scott has an important appointment to make and there are some legislators who would like that plum assignment so they may be more receptive to aiding him.
Scott also of course has veto power over appropriations and bills which can convince recalcitrant legislators to play nice with him. But in the end will the desire of Senate and House Republicans to reach a deal - and knowing Scott's time in office is coming to an end soon - trump all of the governor's leverage points?
5. How many gun bills will pass? Much has already been written about the long line of gun rights bills up for consideration during this year's session. They of course include open carry, campus carry, and a rewrite of the state's "stand your ground" law.
Recent tragedies such as the Pulse Nightclub shooting and the killings at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport have added to a debate about "gun free zones" and whether or not people should be allowed to bring their guns into areas they are not allowed to now.
In the past few years, some of the more contentious gun bills have gotten bogged down and failed to pass. Polls have shown that many of the proposals aren't backed by a majority of Floridians. But gun rights supporters - including the National Rifle Association - have been unrelenting in their push to get these measures passed.
On the first day of session Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican, made it clear that she has trouble with some of the proposals - a move that means that several bills would not be able to move out of a key committee in the Senate.
But there's still a lot of time left in session so it may be a tad premature to declare everything dead for now. And the change proposed to the stand your ground law has strong support, including from Negron, so that appears to be on track to pass.