Florida is awash in revenues that have exceeded economists’ expectations, and the competing spending plans released by the House and Senate this week reflect that, with more funding for K-12 schools, hospitals and mental health programs.
The Senate budget is $113.7 billion, or nearly $700 million more than the House proposal and a $3.7 billion increase from the current year.
“Thanks to decades of responsible planning and budgeting, Florida is ahead of other states, enjoying the benefits of growing revenues, population and opportunity for our citizens,” said House Speaker Paul Renner, a Palm Coast Republican.
“However, the failures in Washington, D.C. cast a shadow over our nation’s economic outlook, so we must take the necessary steps to provide Floridians with relief and redouble our efforts to invest in our first responders, teachers and public employees to keep our state running efficiently. We have also prioritized our long-term infrastructure needs and will set the next generation up for success by upgrading how we deliver public education.”
In a break from the recent past when big-ticket budget items were hammered out between the chambers in the last days of the Regular Session, the House and Senate have already passed major legislation three weeks into this Session, including top priorities of both legislative leaders that come with expensive price tags.
The House passed SB 102 on Friday, a $711 million affordable housing bill, and the Senate passed HB 1 earlier in the week, the bill expanding vouchers to all K-12 students, a measure which carries an inexact price tag but which is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
Despite the early agreements, and the updated projections of economists earlier this month, predicting an additional $7 billion for the next fiscal year, there could be stumbling blocks for the chambers to reach an agreement on a final budget when they start negotiations next month.
The House wants to rework the Florida Education Finance Program, the state’s key funding formula for K-12 schools, and eliminate Enterprise Florida, the state’s main economic development agency, and defund VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing group. The Senate doesn’t include any of those measures in its budget, and adds funding for VISIT FLORIDA, up to $80 million, or $30 million more than the current year.
The appropriations committees in the House and Senate will each convene on Tuesday to take up amendments to their preferred budgets. Each chamber will pass the budget off the floor the following week, setting the stage for formal negotiations on a final spending plan.
Budget negotiators must reach an agreement by May 2 to meet the 72-hour “cooling off” period required by the state constitution before voting on the budget to end the Regular Session by May 5, the scheduled last day of the 60-day session.