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Democrats want changes to House budget, criticizing trust fund sweeps

Other cuts also prompted complaints from the minority party.

The $89.9 billion spending plan the House has readied for floor consideration isn’t making everyone happy.

The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday backed the chamber’s proposed budget, which totals well below the $91.3 billion spending plan Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis presented to lawmakers earlier this year and the $90.3 billion budget the Senate has pitched.

Nearly all Democrats and Republicans voted in favor of the conservative appropriations bill. But it did not pass with pure acquiescence.

Democrats on the panel criticized the House budget for sweeping money from the affordable housing trust fund. They also warned against a plan to shutter VISIT FLORIDA and expressed a need to send more funds to Florida Forever and the state’s cultural arts programs.

State Rep. Ben Diamond, a St. Petersburg Democrat, cast the lone “no” vote on the budget, now expected to pass on the floor of the House next week.

“A critical part of protecting this state’s water comes through the Florida Forever program in terms of our ability to acquire acres of land that are important to significant water bodies in our state,” Diamond said before voting.

The House proposal currently sets aside $20 million for the land-purchasing program. DeSantis proposed $100 million.

Other debate centered on dollars for the part of the budget crafted by state Rep. Jay Trumbull, a Panama City Republican who chairs the Transportation and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee.

Democrats warned against the House’s move to only fund VISIT FLORIDA — the state’s tourism-marketing agency — until Oct.1, a sunset date written into state law.  The House has in the past targeted the agency for misusing funds. 

“As you all know, we have a history with VISIT FLORIDA in this particular chamber,” Trumbull said while explaining that portion of the budget.

He added that he thinks there has been progress at the agency, but “unless there is a piece of legislation that allows it to continue,” it will only be funded until Oct. 1.

A bill in the Senate would repeal the shutter date. The chamber also is moving forward a plan to fund VISIT FLORIDA through the next fiscal year.

House leadership doesn’t want to do the same.

“I think we’re, candidly, playing with fire there,” Diamond said.

Democrats in debate criticized the House plan to sweep $200 million out of the state and local affordable housing pool, known as the Sadowski Trust Fund, to fund other parts of the budget.

The current House proposal would fund Sadowski at $123 million. But that money could only be used in counties hit hard by Hurricane Michael.

Democratic state Rep. Evan Jenne, of Dania Beach, referred to the sweep as “budgetary spackle.”

“We just scoop some out when we see a crack in the [budget],” Jenne said.

State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat, feared that the $123 million set aside for hurricane-related affordable housing projects could potentially take away from projects in Central Florida that he said are desperately needed.

“It’s a false choice to have to pick between recovery for Hurricane Michael victims and funding affordable housing projects as we should be doing with the Sadowski Trust Fund,” Smith said.

Trumbull said federal drawdown dollars, which last year exceeded $691 million, would be used for housing in other parts of the state.

Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee of Miami said before casting a favorable vote that he believes some of his party’s concerns could be addressed in the negotiating process between the House and Senate.

Written By

Danny McAuliffe is a Tallahassee correspondent for Florida Politics. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as the editor of the FSView & Florida Flambeau. He is a lifelong Floridian and indulges in swimming, hiking, running and memes when the news cycle permits. Reach him at dmcauliffe500@gmail.com.

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