Lawmakers pass $101.5 billion budget, boosted by federal recovery funds
Chris Sprowls and Wilton Simpson.

Controversial bills around insurance and college athletes delayed the budget's passage.

The Legislature has passed its budget package for the coming fiscal year.

Senators voted unanimously to pass the $101.5 billion budget plan (SB 2500) minutes after 1 p.m. on Friday, the final day of the Legislative Session. The House voted 117-1, with Republican Rep. Anthony Sabatini casting the lone no vote.

After the House vote, the Legislature will be able to send the bill and the rest of the budget package to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his consideration.

Senate President Wilton Simpson had expected lawmakers to adjourn by midday Friday, and lawmakers were prepped for an early departure. However, insurance bills and legislation targeting the NCAA to preempt its anticipated boycott over a bill blocking transgender women from women’s sports has held up Sine Die.

The $101.5 billion tab for the 2021-22 fiscal year, which begins in July, is $9.3 billion larger than the current year’s $92.2 billion budget. That amounts to a more than 10% increase — “a lot,” lead House budget negotiator Jay Trumbull told members Thursday.

That increase is largely because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the increases is a $4.3 billion boost to account for an additional 1 million Medicaid enrollees and $2.8 billion in federal stimulus for child care.

Nearly $7 billion in federal aid bolstered the Legislature’s budget comes from an anticipated $10.2 billion pot for Florida through the American Rescue Plan.

However, not all of that funding applies to the coming fiscal year, and the American Rescue Plan tally isn’t fully included in the the top line $101.5 billion. That’s allocated separately because of the remaining uncertainty in those funds.

This year, DeSantis proposed a $96.6 billion budget before the federal government rolled out the latest stimulus plan. He has since peppered lawmakers with suggestions, including $1,000 bonus checks for teachers, principals and first responders, which made it into lawmaker’s spending plan.

The Legislature’s budget ultimately keeps $6 billion in reserves. From that, $350 million is slated for the budget stabilization fund from the American Rescue Plan, Senate budget chief Kelli Stargel highlighted Thursday.

“Through a combination of key investments and significant reserves, this budget sets Florida on a responsible path towards a full economic recovery that will leave our state well-prepared to address potential future challenges and seize upcoming opportunities (as) more and more people locate here to our great state,” Stargel said.

At times, the budget looked like it may not arrive on time despite legislative leaders’ insistence it would. Because the federal funds aren’t in the states’ hands yet, lawmakers saved details on those plans until the late stages of the budget-making process.

The majority of the federal stimulus will go toward infrastructure and environmental projects.

Among that is $2 billion for the State Transportation Trust Fund and $300 million for Department of Environmental Protection land acquisitions.

“The House budget shows our members’ commitment to our environment, our families and our communities,” Trumbull said Thursday. “This balanced budget reflects our belief that the state should not spend more than it takes in, and makes strategic investments in Florida’s future.”

The final budget won’t be the full $101.5 billion after DeSantis issues his vetoes, but it will likely top $100 billion for the first time in state history. DeSantis made just over $1 billion in line-item vetoes, a historic amount, last year as Florida braced for the economic fallout from the pandemic.

The Legislature waited nearly three months last year to send the Governor the budget to buy him time to assess the pandemic’s impacts. Ultimately, he signed it two days before the fiscal year began.

Stargel told reporters this month that a $100 billion budget won’t be sustainable for future legislatures, which won’t have the cache of federal aid.

On top of the $10.2 billion Florida is receiving directly from the federal plan, schools are to receive $7 billion. The state will be allocating those funds directly despite questions over whether it has the authority to do so.

Other top items in the budget include $43 million to raise the minimum wage for the state’s nearly 13,000 employees to $13 an hour, a priority of the Senate President. House Speaker Chris Sprowls got $156.4 million for workforce measures and to update the state’s unemployment system portal.

Among DeSantis’ top priorities was an additional $50 million to continue raising teacher salaries to a base minimum salary of $47,500 annually. Lawmakers wrote that additional allocation into their budget after beginning with a $500 million expenditure last year.

The budget also allocates $30 million for the African American Cultural and Historic Grant Program and $9 million for the Department of Health’s Office of Minority Health and Health Equity infrastructure.

Among other budget bills passed is a bill to terminate the Lawton Chiles Endowment Fund, created in 1999 to fund tobacco-related health programs. The state must liquidate the remaining $958 million in the fund by the end of the coming fiscal year.

In debate Thursday, senators were thankful for the additional funds that became available to Florida, through economic recovery and the American Rescue Plan, signed by President Joe Biden.

“We thought we were going to be really scraping the bottom, and thanks to recovery in our economy, and really thanks to some decisions that were made in Washington and by our President, we are in a very different position,” said Sen. Loranne Ausley, a Tallahassee Democrat.

Bradenton Republican Sen. Jim Boyd said he and others had been managing expectations before the state’s financial situation turned rosier. He won a $100 million appropriation from the federal stimulus to mitigate the environmental damage at Piney Point.

But unlike Ausley, Boyd directed his thanks to the Senate President and colleagues rather than Biden.

“We all have stepped up in a way that I just can’t even imagine,” he said. “You’re changing the lives of Floridians, not just in my community and district but across the state.”

Trumbull on Friday called this year’s budget process a roller coaster that began with the presumption that they would have $3 billion less than they thought before the pandemic. He placed a large share of that thanks on DeSantis and outgoing Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz, whose last day is Friday, for helping to navigate the state through the pandemic.

“We catapulted out of this pandemic, our state did, and it really set us up for tremendous success,” Trumbull said.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

One comment

  • Ron Ogden

    April 30, 2021 at 5:13 pm

    Democrats trying to given credit to Biden? Joe Biden can’t even find Florida–just like he can’t find his mask and he can’t find his asp with both hands.

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