Coronavirus drives compromise budget outline on Day 61
House budget chief Travis Cummings and Senate budget chief Rob Bradley brief reporters on the state's finances during a March 2020 budget conference.

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Coronavirus made reserves a priority.

They don’t know the top line number yet. Nor do they know how much goes to supplemental projects. And they don’t know when they’re going to vote on it.

But there is, indeed, a budget deal.

The elongated budget negotiations, which led to a last-week game of chicken between the House and Senate, reached a narrative conclusion Saturday, one day after Sine Die.

But true to form, leading lawmakers took the scenic route.

Budget chairs Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Travis Cummings had been expected to meet mid-morning, then lunchtime, then “1 or 2,” then “2 or 3” or “3 to 4.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ coronavirus press conference pushed the time back farther, past 4:30 PM.

A leading Senate Democrat joked “that sounds about right” when asked about the delay.

The House was wrangling on certain bills, such as school safety legislation and the tax package, that seemed to lead to a lot of so-called “good bills” dying in the stalled-out Day 60.

Other wishlist items, such as teacher raises, were pared down given gloomy forecasts.

Meanwhile, the haze of coronavirus rose, encompassing what many called the “petri dish” of the legislature, which decided manfully to push through the process and produce a budget even as policy bills died.

“Life has to go on,” Senate President Bill Galvano said after Day 60. And so did the compromise document that was the budget.

Tax holidays, contemplated by the House, were cut because the economy is going south, Speaker Jose Oliva said, with a $300 million extra reserve for coronavirus sought given a lack of “confidence” in everything from the economy to crowds.

“It’s a very serious economic risk,” Oliva said, wondering if it would be enough to get through to the new legislature given the “major drivers of sales tax” shutting down.

The coronavirus issue required that reserve on top of $52 million of allocated state and federal money, Senate budget chair Rob Bradley said.

“There are resources there if the Governor needs them,” Bradley said.

Bradley and Cummings met early Saturday morning, resolving key silos, and setting the stage for closing out the budget, getting the “budget on the table” for passage Wednesday or Thursday.

Among those issues: teacher pay.

“We had $400 million to raise the minimum salaries of teachers around the state. We’re going to get very close to the $47.5 for minimum salary,” said budget chair Sen. Rob Bradley.

“This is the year of the teacher,” Bradley said. “Promises made, promises kept.”

“Some districts will get closer than others,” Bradley said, about the Governor’s goal.

The Governor wanted $602 million, but “when the proposal was made, we did not have the situation we have … we make decisions based on the realities facing us as we sit there in mid March.

“We were very aggressive with reserves,” Bradley noted. “We’re over $3.8 billion in reserves. We are prepared when it comes to dealing with any potential economic downturns.”

The scaled back tax package and Medicaid reversions helped to come up with that extra money for coronavirus.

“We started this Session knowing it was going to be a negotiation … we landed at a place where everyone won,” Bradley said.

Additionally, $42 million is going for school hardening.

“We felt that was definitely adequate,” said Rep. Travis Cummings, to protect students and “make sure we have the safest schools possible.”

Nearly $60 million will go to correctional officer salary boosts, with a 3% raise and pay enhancements tied to length of services.

“Retention is a problem … we were very aggressive in increasing correctional officer pay,” Bradley said.

That commitment to boosting retention includes the 8.5 hour shift pilot program, Cummings said.

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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