Senate Appropriations Committee OKs budget plan

The Senate's proposed budget is more than the House's.

The Senate Appropriations Committee OK’d its $92.8 billion budget, which is $1.4 billion more the House plan.

The group’s budget committee passed the  House budget  Wednesday.

As the meeting kicked off Wednesday afternoon, Budget chief Rob Bradley extolled investments in teachers, state employees and the environment.

Bradley also praised raises for state workers, and “hundreds of millions of dollars” to defray health insurance costs, up 6% year over year. insurance provision is also in the House version.

Subcommittee chairs offered their takes in a discussion that went deeper than the House considerations of those budgets.

Education Appropriations Chair Kelli Stargel discussed, among other subjects, the teacher salary increase proposal that allocates 80% to raising minimum classroom salaries to $47,500. Once that threshold is met the money can go toward experienced teacher salary increases.

The Senate budget appropriates $500 million for teacher raises, along with $325 million in Base Student Allocation flexible spending, which districts can invest in teachers and school district personnel.

“My hope is they would used some of these funds for salary increases beyond [what has been proposed],” Stargel said.

Sen. Aaron Bean, discussing the Health and Human Services budget, noted full funding for KidCare, allowing sliding scale insurance for all kids.

Nursing homes, currently operating at a loss, will get a $104 million funding boost.

The Agency for Persons with Disabilities, Bean said, would get $164 million of extra money, and $250 million more to “fund the deficits they’ve been running.”

“We’re making small reforms now so we don’t have to make drastic reforms later,” Bean noted.

Bean also noted telehealth funding ($4 million) and $69 million to “continue the fight” against opioids.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, meanwhile, again highlighted the “unsustainable path” in the Department of Corrections.

Brandes spotlighted violence, with inmate-on-staff assaults increasing by almost 50% in the last decade.

Inmate-on-inmate assaults are up 67% in 10 years.

Corrections officers are inexperienced, he said, with 60% likely to quit within two years of hire.

That turnover begot massive increases in contraband and assaults.

Increases in pay that amount to $2,700 per officer, Brandes suggested, are long overdue.

“Today they start with a salary of $33,000,” the Senator noted.

A pilot program to reduce shifts from 12 hours will cost $29.1 million.

“This is the number one priority of the Department of Corrections,” Brandes said. Brandes notes that while the House wants to move forward, they would take longer than the three years proposed by the Senate.

Inmate health care is also subject to change. Brandes noted university medical schools will play a bigger role than the current model.

Inmates who are “older and sicker” can cost up to $60,000 a year to maintain, thrice the charge of a young, healthy inmate. Correctional nursing homes are a potential solution.

Hepatitis C funding will be up, with $28 million included in the proposed budget. Mental health facility funding, for a stand-alone facility in Lake County staffed with mental health experts, is also in the budget.

Sen. Travis Hutson addressed transportation and tourism issues, noting fully funding the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund with $387 million and $52.5 million for VISIT FLORIDA — two positions where the House diverges.

 Sen. Debbie Mayfield broached agricultural issues. She noted water quality and environmental funding exceeds the Governor’s requested $625 million.

Florida Forever funding of $125 million is well above the $20 million contemplated in the House.

Everglades restoration and water resources, at $644 million, is in line with the House and about $20 million more than the Governor’s proposal.

Bradley noted the state will spend $466 million on hurricane recovery, with $1.3 million in federal funds.

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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