The House and Senate budgets are out, and we’ve spent the weekend going through them with a fine-toothed comb.
The House budget is quite a bit heftier because, unlike the Senate, it allocates $4.4 billion in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan. More money means more interesting line items.
The House budget in a single word: infrastructure.
The 10-figure standout in the House budget is a $3.5 billion appropriation to pay for repairs and improvements at state buildings. The funding is essentially a Governor’s Office grant program. Agencies, courts and universities would write out a list of maintenance, repair and renovation projects and turn it in to the Governor’s Office for approval.
Projects wouldn’t automatically get rubber-stamped — they would need to improve indoor air quality to prevent viral spread; improve water or sewer infrastructure; make buildings more handicap accessible; or bring aging buildings inline with modern building code.
A new look could be in store for the Capitol, too.
The Senate and House both set aside about $17.5 million for Phase 3 of the Capitol Complex’s HVAC upgrade and Phase 1 of the Capitol Complex window replacement project. What’s that mean? Those famous horizontal bars and grates that cover all four sides of the Capitol may be gone soon, replaced with windows that give the tower a fresh new look.
Another big chunk of change will head to roads projects, by way of a $2 billion infusion into the State Transportation Trust Fund.
The fund took a beating during the pandemic, but the House plan would largely make up for the revenue loss — the new funding represents a more than 20% increase. The only string attached: DOT has to use it to get to work on the projects it scrapped or shelved over the past year.
The House plan would also accelerate roads projects by pumping another $2 billion into the State Transportation Trust Fund. The infusion represents a 20% increase to the fund, allowing the Department of Transportation to get to work on some of the projects it shelved during the pandemic.
The second buzzword of the 2021 Legislative Session: resiliency.
Legislative leadership and the Governor have pitched programs that acknowledge sea level rise is a reality and that the state needs to start doing something about it. The big-ticket policy item is the Resilient Florida program which would provide grants to local governments to help combat rising waters.
But where to start? If only we knew which parts of the state face are at greater risk.
A map might help. And we might be getting one that will show all the ins, outs, inlets and outflows of the state’s 1,350 miles of coastline.
The massive project would see a $100 million transfer from the general fund to the Department of Environmental Protection to procure “high-resolution coastal mapping services to provide seafloor data from the coast to the edge of the continental shelf or beyond.” DEP would be directed to seek out some matching funds from various federal programs, but no matter how much they kick in, we’ll be looking at one very expensive — and probably very cool — map.
Resiliency isn’t all about sea level rise and climate change — it’s also digital. Lawmakers want to toss more than $31.6 million toward a raft of improvements to the state’s cybersecurity infrastructure.
The slate is more than a dozen projects long, with the biggest chunk heading toward a “Cybersecurity Assessments & Asset Inventory.” That’ll set the state back about $4.8 million. The best of the rest: a $3.2 million Cybersecurity Operations Center, $4 million for vulnerability management, and $2.4 million to snag an industrial control system and harden critical infrastructure. For the full list, flip to page 406 of the House PCB.
Infrastructure and resiliency aside, both chambers set aside cash for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to pay off the homeowners impacted by its aggressive campaign against citrus canker 20 years ago. If passed, the yearslong saga would be put to bed with a $44 million appropriation.
A smaller, but still noteworthy, item is a $2.2 million transfer from the Department of Health to Florida A&M University for an educational program covering medical cannabis as well as how illicit marijuana use effects minority communities.
Though no funding is attached currently, the Senate budget directs state agencies to draft reports on how the new minimum wage amendment will impact their bottom lines. Those reports would be due to the House, Senate and Governor by Dec. 1 of this year. Notably, the Senate plan would boost the minimum wage at state agencies to $13 an hour, which would deliver a raise to about 10,000 employees.