The Florida Senate on Wednesday unanimously passed a $90.3 billion budget (SB 2500) for the upcoming fiscal year.
The House teed up its $89.9 billion budget (HB 5001) later on Wednesday. With a vote expected Thursday, that primes the two chambers for budget conferencing as early as this weekend. The Legislature is required to pass a single budget each year to submit to the Governor.
“I think this budget truly is a function of the priorities of the people that you all represent,” said GOP Sen. Rob Bradley, who oversaw the spending plan as Appropriations Chair.
Bradley highlighted the $3.4 billion set aside for reserves during a year when the state is recovering from a hurricane. The Senate budget uses $1.6 billion in emergency funds from the state and just shy of $220 million from the spending plan for Hurricane Michael.
Even with the added cost of Hurricane Michael, Bradley said, the appropriations bill is fiscally responsible.
The federal government, he added, needs to help out.
“Understand the state of Florida is not only meeting its obligation, but is going above and beyond to help our friends in the Panhandle,” Bradley said. “I don’t want to get too controversial, but Congress in Washington needs to act.”
The House and Senate are far apart on funding for preK-12 and higher education services.
In the preK-12 portion of the budget, the Senate has backed a $1.1 billion increase to the Florida Education Finance Program, an operating funding source for Florida’s 67 school districts. The increase is about $520 million more than what the House will consider.
The House has proposed a series of cuts to the State University System, including a $100 million reduction in university base funding and a $20 million reduction in pre-eminence funding.
Those cuts are not included in the Senate’s budget.
Both Bradley and House Appropriations Chair Travis Cummings have identified education money as a potential sticking point to be worked out in negotiations.
Other discrepancies in the budget have been highlighted as the spending plans moved through The Process.
The Senate has opted to fund public-private agencies like VISIT FLORIDA and Enterprise Florida. The House, meanwhile, is moving forward with a funding plan to shut down the jobs-creating Enterprise Florida and shutter VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism-marketing agency, on Oct. 1. Both are public-private partnerships.
The House has opted to sweep money from a trust fund for affordable housing, while the Senate wants to fully fund the coffer, known as the Sadowski Trust, at more than $330 million.
Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat, asked whether the body would be willing to move on Sadowski funding during conference.
“I don’t think that it does anyone any favors that when you go into negotiations (saying), ‘This is off the table to talk about,’ ” Bradley said.
Democrats commended Bradley for crafting the budget, offering only mild debate.
But at one point, Democratic Sen. Bill Montford of Tallahassee asked Bradley to explain why state workers did not get an across-the-board raise.
“That is not something that we could accomplish and still be able to do other core needs,” Bradley said.
While the House and Senate spending plans are shaping up to be about $400 million apart, there is unity on two priorities of the executive branch.
The chambers are nearly aligned on a plan to overhaul the state’s principal and teacher bonus structure, with both the House and Senate setting aside about $234 million for the new program, one of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ priorities.
DeSantis, who wields line-item veto power on the budget, has signaled he’s happy with the House and Senate’s proposals to fund environmental priorities.
DeSantis had recommended spending $625 million for the Everglades and water quality. The Senate’s proposal totals $656 million.