Budget crunching begins, as Senate offers $95B plan
Image via Colin Hackley.

“Ours is a budget that prepares us today for a better tomorrow."

The Florida Senate proposed a $95 billion budget on Friday, and the House is expected to release its own draft over the weekend as lawmakers begin reconciling their spending differences with a proposal already put forward by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The Republican governor had initially proposed a $96.6 billion budget, but later added another $4.1 billion in spending after President Joe Biden signed a $1.9 trillion stimulus package into law earlier this month.

Despite the federal aid, Senate President Wilton Simpson said his chamber would take a cautious approach.

“We have a constitutional responsibility to pass a balanced budget in good times, and in difficult times. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, revenues that fund our day-to-day government are down, and we know we have some big expenses on the horizon, which means we had to make difficult choices throughout the budget,” Simpson said in a statement accompanying details of his chamber’s proposed budget.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls said his chamber expects to release its proposal on Saturday.

“Ours is a budget that prepares us today for a better tomorrow,” Sprowls said during a media availability Friday. “This is the beginning of the budget process.”

Another state revenue estimate is expected in the first week of April, and Sprowls expressed confidence that the estimate will exceed expectations.

When the Governor unveiled his initial $96.6 billion budget in January, he said the state would not have to dip into reserves to make up for revenue shortfalls. In fact, his proposal was $4.3 billion more than the current budget that runs through the fiscal year ending June 30.

The increased spending is because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and increased costs in Medicaid. To partially make up for it, the governor proposed about $1 billion in reduced spending at more than a dozen state agencies.

Earlier this month, DeSantis laid out an additional $4.1 billion in spending, thanks to the $10 billion share the state is expected to get from the federal coronavirus relief package. DeSantis wants to use $208 million of that money for $1,000 bonus checks to the state’s first responders, $1 billion to establish an Emergency Management Response Fund and another $1 billion for the state’s resiliency campaign against rising sea levels.

The Senate’s proposed budget does not include the pandemic relief funds, which the chamber said is still under review and will be addressed later in the session.

“It is clear to me that we do not yet have a full view of the long-term adjustments to our economy as a result of the pandemic,” said Sen. Kelli Stargel, who chairs the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

“Since those estimates, we also have seen the newest round of federal stimulus signed into law,” she said. “While this is very helpful funding for one-time investments, and further bolstering our reserves, these funds are non-recurring and cannot be spent on recurring functions of government. For this reason, our budget sets aside significant reserves.”

The Senate’s budget proposal sets aside $5 billion in reserves.

It is also recommending that there be no tuition increases for public colleges and universities.

The budget proposal also would establish a scholarship fund for descendants of African Americans killed, beaten or driven from their homes during the Ocoee Election Day Riots in 1920. The Senate budget sets aside $305,000 to provide up to 50 scholarships.

The Election Day massacre in Ocoee was one of the bloodiest periods in American political history, with the number of deaths remaining in question – although some historians estimate fatalities could number as high as 60.

The violence began when a white mob swept through the town after Mose Norman, a Black man, showed up at the polls to vote in November of that year. Over two days of terror, the mob set fire to the community of about 850 people – more than a fourth of them Black.


Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Bobby Caina Calvan

Bobby Caina Calvan is The Associated Press reporter in Tallahassee.


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