The Florida House and Senate on Thursday passed their spending plans differing by only about $100 million — a tenth of a percent of the roughly $87 billion proposed by each chamber.
The starting point for final budget negotiations on what is the largest proposed budget in state history is more than a week ahead of schedule, Senate President Joe Negron said. And though he says money differences are not that big, clashes over the environment, health and education remain.
A plan by House GOP leadership to “link” the education sub-section to a “conforming” bill laden with new policy has roiled the chamber’s budget. That includes a proposal to create a new scholarship for students who are bullied in public schools to go to private school.
The two are so intertwined that Hialeah Republican Manny Diaz, chair of the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, admitted that if that bill (HB 7055) failed, legislators would have to start from scratch to craft a new lower education sub-budget.
Negron told reporters on Thursday that he would prefer the House move its education bill — a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran — “through the traditional process” and not through the budget as a conforming bill.
“It would be preferable to refer it to the appropriate committees,” Negron said, “but the larger picture is that many proposals in the bill enjoy the support of the Senate … the majority of the Senate is promoting school choice.”
House Democrats have complained that the education bill would violate the state constitution’s “single subject” rule, which requires that “every law shall embrace but one subject and matter properly connected therewith, and the subject shall be briefly expressed in the title.”
For example, Democratic Leader-designate Kionne McGhee and others rapped the bill for having a 12-page title.
He actually spent about 10 minutes just listing off all the headings of the provisions in the bill. “We’re laying down a record for the (state) Supreme Court to review this bill,” said McGhee, an attorney.
Miami Beach Democratic Rep. David Richardson, a forensic auditor known for his detailed budget analysis, tried to amend the budget to cut the link to HB 7055, calling it “a bad precedent.”
No surprise: That move was eventually shot down on a party-line vote. But the bill passed on a 66-43 vote.
Over in the Senate, the budget debate sailed through the chamber with a 33-1 vote.
The proposal sets aside $3.4 billion in total reserves and appropriates $21.1 billion for the state’s K-12 and higher education systems.
Next week, the process to schedule budget conference meetings will begin to reach a final agreement on the 2018-19 budget.
“We are close in amount, so that makes life a lot easier,” Negron said.