The Florida House passed a $105.3 billion budget Wednesday, setting the stage for negotiations with the Senate, which is poised to pass a $108 billion spending plan Thursday.
The vote on HB 5001 was an overwhelming margin of 102-14. But many Democrats — even those who voted for it — critiqued several portions of the plan, including withholding $200 million from 12 school districts, cuts to Medicaid and the lack of funds for a key affordable housing program.
The House spending plan would withhold $200 million from 12 school districts that enacted mask mandates for students when school returned last fall. The moves defied an executive order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The Legislature, in a November Special Session, later passed a law to clarify that parents can opt not to mask their children who are attending school.
Democrats called the measure “punitive” and noted no school districts were still out of compliance.
“That’s still going to come from their budget,” said Rep. Dan Daley, a Sunrise Democrat. He voted for the budget, however, in the hope the $200 million reduction would be reduced or eliminated.
Rep. Randy Fine, a Brevard County Republican in charge of the House PreK-12 education budget, noted the funding going to schools was more than the current year, about $24 billion in total. That marks a $1.18 billion increase, about 5%.
“We’re not cutting a single dollar from public education in this plan,” Fine said. “Yes, there is a $200 million adjustment.”
Those districts still need to be punished for breaking the law, he argued, and for taking the state to court over the mask mandates. DeSantis, initially skeptical of the reduction, publicly backed the plan Tuesday after Fine and the House ensured the reductions would have to come from salaries of school district administrators making more than $100,000 per year.
Other Democrats decried the lack of funding for the State Apartment Incentive Loan (SAIL) program, a main affordable housing program that provides funds for multi-family housing units. The House budget puts $268.1 million into the State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) program, which provides grants to local governments to help low-income families toward home ownership.
The plan doesn’t do enough to address the housing crisis, said Rep. Fentrice Driskell, a Tampa Democrat, who noted the Senate’s budget includes more than $300 million for affordable housing and contains funds for SAIL as well as SHIP. She noted housing costs have risen 40% in her district.
“But who saw a 40% increase in their salary? Not the people in my district,” said Driskell, who voted against the bill.
Another source of Democratic angst is a plan to cut $560 million in Medicaid funding for hospitals to help pay for training for nurses and other hospital staff to address staffing shortages health care facilities have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rep. Bryan Avila, a Miami Republican in charge of the health care budget, has argued hospitals have received $3 billion in federal funds since the pandemic began and made $6 billion in profits, so the funds should be placed to address the staffing needs of the health care system.
But Democrats noted that moving the funds would cost the state some federal matching funds for Medicaid and argued it would hurt existing health care needs.
“We shouldn’t take from current hospital staff to pay for training for future hospital staff,” said Rep. Kamia Brown, an Ocoee Democrat who still voted for the budget.
The Senate is scheduled to discuss its preferred spending plan on the floor Thursday. The two chambers will then enter negotiations later in Session, which is scheduled to end March 11.