The Legislature has made the budget (SB 2500) agreed to by House and Senate negotiators public, with lawmakers prepared to approve a $117 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1. That’s an $8 billion increase on the current year, or 7.4%.
Boosted by soaring revenues stemming from a robust rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, federal stimulus funds to deal with the pandemic and inflation-juiced sales taxes, legislators were able to spend more on K-12 schools, health care programs, environmental projects and raises for state workers while setting aside nearly $11 billion in reserves.
“With increases in revenue, we have the amazing opportunity to make key generational investments in many areas of our infrastructure, from workforce housing, to transportation, to clean water, to our iconic Wildlife Corridor,” said Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican.
“While this is positive, we cannot ignore the economic challenges already impacting Florida families and those clearly on the horizon nationally. Rather than spending all we have, this budget holds the line, setting aside historic reserves and providing for tremendous tax relief opportunities that will reduce the cost of living for Florida families in a meaningful way.”
Their budget package includes $26.8 billion for K-12 schools, a $2.2 billion increase from the current year, or 9%. That amounts to $8,648 per student, an increase of $405, or 5%.
Lawmakers also put more money into the main funding formula, known as the base student allocation, for schools while eliminating some dedicated funding for specific items, including instructional materials, reading instruction and teacher classroom supplies. The move gives school districts more flexibility in their budgets.
State workers are also in line for a 5% salary increase, and agencies are also getting $96.5 million to give out targeted raises to help retain workers, as the government responds to higher competing wages in the private sector. The Department of Corrections, which has struggled for several years to recruit and retain prison guards, will also receive funds for bonuses and salary hikes to fill positions at facilities with high vacancy rates.
House Speaker Paul Renner, a Palm Coast Republican, also pushed for increases in pension benefits, another effort to retain workers. The changes include reducing the retirement age for police, firefighters and first responders from 60 years of age or 30 years of service to 55 years of age or 25 years of service.
There is also more time to enter the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) and an extension of the time to be in DROP, which allows workers of retirement age to accrue more benefits while continuing to work. Teachers will now be allowed to remain in drop for 10 years, a move designed to entice older teachers to stay in the workforce as the state struggles with a teacher shortage.
The state constitution requires the budget to be made public for at least 72 hours before lawmakers can vote on it, so the earliest the Legislature can vote on the bill is Friday morning, the last scheduled day of the Regular Session.