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Florida Senate - House Set to Exchange Proposed Budgets

Photo of calculator with copy: It's Florida Budget Time
                                                                                                             Photo: StellrWeb

TALLAHASSEE, FL – After sifting through its proposed $92.8 billion fiscal year 2021 budget Wednesday, the Senate plans to tentatively adopt it Thursday and formally send it to the House next week.

The House also combed through its proposed $91.4 billion budget Wednesday and is scheduled to tentatively approve it Thursday, sending it over to the Senate in an exchange of spending plans.

Wednesday marked the midpoint of the Legislature’s 60-day session, meaning the remaining weeks will feature haggling between two chambers in budget conferences, which are closed to the public, to resolve more than $1.4 billion in differences in the proposed plans.

The proposed House budget is closely aligned in overall spending with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ $91.4 billion budget request, which increases spending by 0.4 percent from this year’s $90.98 billion budget. The Senate’s plan calls for nearly $2 billion more in spending next year.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, introduced the Senate plan on the floor by putting the proposed budget in perspective.

Waving a copy of Florida’s $893,000 budget from 1893, when the state had about 400,000 residents, he pointed to the proposed fiscal 21 budget on his desk, a 400-plus page volume of line-item appropriations, data breakouts, graphs and summaries.

“We have a lot of challenges that come from explosive growth in having to meet the needs of 21.8 million Floridians,” Bradley said. “This budget meets that challenge.”

Bradley said while addressing needs, the Senate plan also includes $3.5 billion in reserves.

“This is important,” he said. “When the state of Florida borrows money – and we do borrow money – we pay less in interest because we have robust reserves and a great track record.”

Among similarities in the spending plans, the House and Senate allocate more for Everglades restoration and water infrastructure improvements than DeSantis seeks in his $625 million request, fully fund Medicaid at $29.4 billion, appropriate approximately $2.8 billion for the Department of Corrections (DOC) and come within $300 million in preK-12 education funding.

Among differences, the Senate seeks to fully fund the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund with $387 million, while the House earmarks $144 million. The Senate also allocates $52.5 million for VISIT FLORIDA, the embattled tourist marketing agency the House wants to do away with.

The Senate sets aside $125 million for the Florida Forever environmental land acquisition program, close to DeSantis’ $100 million request, while the House only wants to spend $20 million.

Both plans include significant increases in teacher pay, which is a DeSantis priority. The Senate commits $500 million, with 80 percent required to increase the minimum salaries to $47,500, and sets aside $325 million for school districts to use for salary enhancements, not just for teachers but other staff.

“That’s an additional investment of $825 million,” Bradley said.

The House calls for a $650 million “salary enhancement supplement” for teachers.

Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said the $650 million does not include pay raises for support staff, mental-health counselors, bus drivers and other school workers.

The measure is “not just a token pay raise,” House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, said. “We are giving them $650 million.”

The Senate plan earmarks $403 million for 3 percent pay raises for state workers and covers the increased cost of health insurance, about $640 for individuals and $1,440 for families.

Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, asked Bradley to confirm the Senate is proposing to cover the health insurance increase for state workers.

When Bradley said that is what the chamber is proposing, Montford said, “I want to hug you.”

“Well get on over here, big guy,” Bradley roared as the floor erupted in laughter.

This piece appeared in the The Center Square and was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license.

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