Legislature should not raid foreclosure settlement money

House Speaker Will Weatherford promised this week that lawmakers would not spend millions in foreclosure settlement money on their “favorite projects that have nothing to do with the crisis.” That would be easier to believe if Rep. Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville hadn’t insisted that the Florida Legislature control the bulk of the $334 million settlement. And if they hadn’t already siphoned off $74 million for the state’s treasury.

Rep. Weatherford, Sen. Gaetz and Attorney General Pam Bondi held a news conference Thursday to announce how lawmakers will spend $60 million of the settlement. The money had been sitting in escrow as legislative leaders and Ms. Bondi battled over control of it. Recently, they agreed that Ms. Bondi would direct $60 million to be spent immediately. The state would get $74 million allocated as civil penalties. And during the legislative session that begins in March, lawmakers get to decide how to spend the remaining $200 million.

Ms. Bondi asked that the $60 million go to housing-related programs. A state-run, first-time homebuyer program will get $35 million, legal aid groups will get $5 million to help foreclosure victims, $10 million will go to housing and credit counseling groups and $5 million will go to state courts, for hiring to expedite foreclosure cases. Another $5 million will reimburse the attorney general’s office for legal fees.

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