The House Appropriations Committee passed the chamber’s $97 billion spending plan Wednesday.
The Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to approve its $95 billion version Wednesday afternoon. That will set the table for budget conferences in the finals weeks of Session.
House budget chief Jay Trumbull told the committee the spending plan is 5% larger than the current fiscal year’s $92.2 billion budget. A large share of the new increases is tied to the additional 730,000 Floridians that have been added to Medicaid since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“The House budget shows our members’ commitment to our environment, our families and our communities,” Trumbull said. “It’s a balanced budget that reflects our belief that the state should not spend more than it takes in and makes strategic investments for our future.”
The panel gave its approval to the House plan by a 26-4 vote. Democratic Reps. James Bush, Ben Diamond, Evan Jenne and Tracie Davis cast the dissenting votes with most Democrats offering their support.
The 2021-22 fiscal year will begin July 1.
The House budget includes $8 billion in federal relief from the American Rescue Plan with the remaining $2.2 billion the state will receive going into reserves. The funding will help patch several depleted trust funds.
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ $96.6 billion budget recommendation lands in the middle of the House and Senate proposals. But DeSantis earlier this month outlined an additional $4.1 billion recommendation after President Joe Biden signed the federal relief act.
The Senate spending plan does not include the pandemic relief funds.
Health care advocates are railing against the Legislature’s budget proposals, particularly the House’s, for cutting funding as the state hopes to emerge from the pandemic. The House plan would strip hospitals of $500 million in funding.
Federal funds help patch that, but Democratic Rep. Nicholas Duran argued it’s not enough.
“We have to take into account that these hospital and health care systems were there at the front end of this pandemic and that we’re still in this pandemic, and that when the Governor had identified the first inklings of a route to vaccinations or testing, each of our hospital systems stepped up to take on that challenge, not something that is necessarily within their day-to-day operations,” Duran said.
The House budget also includes a plan to redirect two-thirds of affordable housing funds, namely into combating rising sea levels and wastewater grants. Despite a provision to prevent the Legislature from sweeping the remaining third, that proposal has drawn opposition from Democrats and environmental activists for slashing the affordable housing budget about $20 million below what it has received in recent years.
The House plan also cuts funding to the Lawton Chiles Endowment Fund, established in 1999 to combat tobacco use and health problems. Past legislative leaders have mentioned the fund as a possible place to cut funding, but Democrats, including Rep. Joe Geller, spoke against the move.
“We’ve raided it in the past, and we shouldn’t have,” Geller said. “That doesn’t mean we should get rid of it. It means we should respect the purpose for which it’s there, the purpose for which it’s dedicated.”