House budget panel OKs spending plan
'There are certain businesses that are lower-risk or moderate-risk that need to be put back to work,"Travis Cummings says.

travis cummings
High-level overviews of line items.

On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee approved its proposed $91.4 billion budget despite Democratic qualms on some issues.

The number comes in $1.5 billion less than the Senate proposal.

Chair Travis Cummings, a Fleming Island Republican, described the budget discussion as “first priority.” noting that the discussion would be “lengthy.”

The discussion was long, including a power outage and an informal recess, but Democrats who spoke up expressed comfort with the budget.

Cummings noted the budget was $381 million over the previous year’s, but a reduction in per capita spending.

“There’s a lot of great things to be proud of in this budget,” Cummings said, spotlighting money for raises for state workers, hurricane recovery, and boosting reserves.

Insurance costs for state workers, Cummings said, are “held at the current level.”

Cummings also spotlighted increased health insurance costs, at 6% or $80 million, a sum the state will absorb.

“We’ve also invested in teacher’s salaries with $650 million in funding and an equal amount for the environment,” Cummings noted.

From there, the chair invited subcommittee chairs to present budgets.

Rep. Chris Latvala noted, regarding the Pre K-12 Appropriations budget, that the total FEFP was $22.8 billion, an increase of $868.8 million over the current year.

Latvala also noted the House education proposal, which would lift base salaries, with money to “increase the minimum base salary for a full-time classroom teacher to an amount that is achievable by the school district’s portion of the $500 million; however, no school district is required to increase the minimum base salary to an amount that exceeds $50,000.”

The health care budget highlights, meanwhile, include fully-funding Medicaid.

“No category of Medicaid eligibility is limited or reduced,” Rep. MaryLynn Magar remarked.

Of the $29.4 billion budget, $7.1 billion is general revenue, $22.3 billion is in trust funds.

Rep. Carlos Smith, an Orlando Democrat, drilled down on long-term wait lists, such as Long-Term Medicare.

“The wait list is kind of a funny thing … we want to be serving the most frail,” Magar said, noting that they will be addressed, but that “anyone who is in crisis comes off the waiting list.”

As well, $8 million is included for DCF “accountability services.”

Justice chair Clay Yarborough highlighted new money for hepatitis C treatment, correctional officer recruiting and retention, with $13 million of new money for needed reforms and $7.4 million for a new DOC mental health facility and retrofitting others to meet Americans with Disability Act guidelines.

When Rep. Ben Diamond asked if DOC’s needs were met, Yarborough said the House has a “balanced approach” to the department, though not every ask will be fulfilled.

Yarborough also highlighted $13 million to shore up Department of Juvenile Justice funds and $9 million for “critical lifesaving maintenance in facilities.”

“I’ve visited several of our facilities,” Yarborough said, noting “aging infrastructure” predominates in North Florida.

Rep. Joseph Geller, addressing expensive and inefficient outsourced health care, wondered if there would be a move to bring inmate health care in house.

Geller noted that he’s up on the budget, a “sober” and “very good” document. Expect that other moderate Democrats will follow.

Moving on to Transportation and Tourism, chair Jay Trumbull highlighted money to fix the Panama City armory, as well as new money for economic development funding ($96 million), a sum that includes Enterprise Florida.

However, one incentive program is unfunded.

VISIT FLORIDA is slated to sunset July 1 … there are no funds for this program,” Trumbull remarked about the state’s tourism agency.

$144 million is earmarked for affordable housing, a sum well below the $387 million sought by the Senate, a number that will be challenged by committee Democrats.

Smith urged the House to move toward the Senate and Governor’s positions.

Chair Holly Raschein of the Agriculture and Natural Resources committee highlighted $652 million for water resources, with roughly half going to the Everglades.

Also, $359 million is earmarked for hazardous waste cleanup, $62 million for citrus canker, and $50 million for beach restoration.

Florida Forever, funded at $20 million, again is well below the Senate threshold for the land conservation program.

When pressed about the funding’s sufficiency, Raschein said the budget focused on water quality, with the $20 million being a “meaningful amount” for the “first round” of the budget process.

As well, Raschein noted that unless the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services removes all gas pump stickers with Commissioner Nikki Fried‘s face, the department would be unfunded beginning July 1 … a sharp rejoinder to Fried bemoaning partisan attacks on her office before the meeting.

Geller noted that cutting her department’s funding would affect consumer services, a position shared by other Democrats.

Smith also shared that position, a “major concern” that “creates a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Rep. Randy Fine, highlighting the $8.3 billion higher education budget, noted increased funding for the four-year Florida College System (1.3% over the current budget).

Reductions in funding include cuts in appropriations projects and cuts to institutions with “large carry-over balances.”

State universities, meanwhile, see a cut of 0.6%, with $50 million in nonrecurring allocations for schools with large carry-over balances.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


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