Sen. Rob Bradley, Clay County Republican and Appropriations Chair, is headed into his final term with the gavel.
For those in the Process hoping for a smooth session, Sen. Bradley suggests that budget discord likely will be minimal, making an on-time ending likely.
“The Senate and the House aren’t that far apart on major budget issues. We kind of have a template with last year’s budget- both sides were comfortable with where we ended up last year. So I don’t see huge shifts from last year’s budget,” Bradley noted.
While 2019’s Session indeed was extended, albeit just one more day, acrimony and posturing was at a minimum compared to previous years. The veto list was a slender $133.1 million, and the House, Senate, and Governor seemed to accord that it was, in the Senator’s words, a “tight budget with no fat.”
Of course, there are areas of House and Senate disagreement.
One such: the Governor’s $600 million proposal to raise base salary for teachers to $47,500 per year, a controversial canard that has gotten criticism from unlikely comrades: the teachers’ union and the House.
Bradley, who has filed a bill (SB 440) to revoke the teacher “Best and the Brightest” bonus program that the gubernatorial plan would replace, was by Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ side when this was rolled out last fall in Clay … though Rep. Cummings apparently had a prior engagement.
House Speaker José Oliva cavilled that the proposal was part of “over $2B of new spending requests from his agencies,” setting the tone for that chamber.
Closer to home, Senate Education Chair Manny Diaz, Jr. filed legislation to lower that proposed starting wage.
Bradley disagreed with this writer’s contention that the proposal may be stalled.
“I don’t think the teacher pay issue is stalled. In fact, I believe that money will be available to the districts for teacher raises in this year’s budget. The momentum that the Governor started with his announcement in Clay County has carried forward,” Bradley said.
Another area where the Governor and Senate hope momentum exists: the continuing saga of the state’s tourism promotion agency.
Oliva called the agency a “waste of $30 million” in the Tampa Bay Times in December, noting that much of the money is spent on overhead.
Cummings said the program didn’t measure up to other “causes and concerns” in the state budget.
For years now, House Republicans have established tourism incentive spending as a deal-breaker condition. 2019’s cut of the budget from $76 million to $50 million came after intense negotiations.
Bradley seems to sense intransigence from the House side.
“Sometimes you just agree to disagree and move on to other issues. On this one, we just agree to disagree,” the Senator said.
While there may be some room for consensus building relative to tourism marketing and teacher compensation, one area where all parties agree will be the need for reserves.
DeSantis wants 6% of the budget put in a rainy day fund. State economists, meanwhile, continue to warn of a recession this year or next.
Don’t expect any spending splashes, Bradley says: “Since I’ve been budget chair, we’ve focused on robust reserves. This year won’t be any different.”