With state coffers padded with soaring revenues buffeted by inflation-juiced sales taxes, the Senate passed a budget with more money for schools, prisons, health care providers and pay raises for state workers.
“The Senate’s proposed budget is a fiscally responsible, balanced approach to making key investments in our environmental, housing, and transportation infrastructure and our clean water resources, while maintaining a historic rainy day fund that ensures we remain prepared to tackle any future challenges that may face our state,” Senate budget chief Doug Broxson of Gulf Breeze said last week.
“We are also raising per student funding to an unprecedented level as we work to provide Florida parents with a historic opportunity to direct funding for their children’s education.”
The budget (SB 2500) passed unanimously, but some Democrats asked questions about areas they see as underfunded in a spending plan with $12 billion in reserves. Sen. Lori Berman, a Lantana Democrat, asked how many people will be remaining on the Agency for Persons with Disabilities’ waitlist for services, which currently stands at more than 22,000.
Sen. Gayle Harrell, a Stuart Republican who chairs the Senate Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, said 1,200 people with the most acute need of services will be taken off the waitlist. She also noted many of those on the waitlist aren’t in dire need of services, as many parents of children with Down syndrome will apply and be put on the waitlist once a child is born and won’t need services immediately.
“These are individuals that will be in crisis or in need of the waiver,” Harrell said.
Overall, the budget includes $19.1 billion for K-12 schools, a 5.7% increase on the current year. That represents $8,569 in per student funding, a $389 increase on the current year.
The health care portion of the budget contains $47.3 billion, including a $92.5 million increase in nursing home provider reimbursement rates and $123.8 million to boost graduate medical education slots to increase the number of doctors in the state.
“We have a shortage of physicians in this state and we want to make sure as we have an increase in citizens coming in,” Harrell said.
The budget now heads to the House, which is expected to vote out its preferred spending plan Tuesday. The chambers will engage in formal negotiations later in the Regular Session.
A final plan must be in place by May 2 to meet the constitutionally-required 72-hour “cooling off” period before lawmakers can vote on the budget to end the 60-day Session on time. The spending plan will govern the budget year that begins July 1.