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House unanimously OKs $91.4 billion budget, sets up conference with Senate

Major daylight between House, Senate plans.

The House unanimously approved its $91.4 billion budget proposal Wednesday, minutes before the Senate was expected to position its more ambitious spending plan for a floor vote.

Nearly $1.5 billion separates the two plans, with divergence on VISIT FLORIDA, Florida Forever and affordable housing funding (the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund) accounting for some of the more high-profile schisms.

The Senate adjusted its proposal to account for changing demographic realities and insights not available when Gov. Ron DeSantis advanced his budget last fall.

However, Speaker José Oliva‘s team resisted the urge for comprehensive revision, citing the integrity of reserves and the need to save for a “rainy day.”

Democrats, even more partisan members of the caucus, lauded budget chief Travis Cummings for collaboration and an “open-door policy.”

The budget was $381 million over the previous year’s, but represented a reduction in per capita spending, with some routinely debated silos representing gulfs between the House and Senate positions.

On affordable housing, the House proposal of $144 million is less than half of the $387 million Senate ask.

While Democrats, such as Reps. Dianne Hart and Margaret Good, messaged against sweeping that fund, the document was long past meaningful change on that front.

Regarding the Florida Forever land conservation program, the Senate wanted $125 million, and the House just $20 million. The position in the House is that Everglades Restoration funding is the big environmental spend in the budget.

Democratic Reps. Ben Diamond and Good contended that $20 million wasn’t enough, given needs for potable water and a long list of properties the Division of State Lands seeks to acquire.

Diamond also took issue with the House plan to zero out VISIT FLORIDA, taking the agency position that investment is justified by data, a contention Oliva and Republican leadership respects.

The House, Senate, and Governor all want teacher compensation reforms, a priority of the Governor. But the proposals differ.

The House would slot $500 million to help raise the minimum teacher salary for $47,500, and an additional $150 million for districts to dole out at their discretion.

“A substantial increase in teacher pay … a good start,” asserted Rep. Carlos G. Smith.

And, like everything else in the document, a starting position for reconciliation in the next month.

The Senate was willing to commit $500 million for teacher pay raises, with 80% being used to increase the minimum salary to $47,500 as the Governor wants. The hope is to near that goal next fiscal year, but not every district will get there.

DeSantis wants $602 million to set a minimum salary for teachers at $47,500, which would put Florida only behind New Jersey in starting teacher pay. He’s seeking an additional $300 million for a bonus program for teachers and principals, targeting underserved populations.

Also, whereas the House contemplates staff cuts from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Senate not only is not cutting staff from or threatening to defund Nikki Fried‘s office but bolstering with resources for the hemp program and other key initiatives.

Despite the differences, Speaker Oliva lauded the strong relationship with Senate President Bill Galvano as a positive augury, expressing optimism that differences can be worked out, even if some bargaining happens along the way.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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