House, Senate budgets clash on prisons, health care
a lot of money - a million US dollars in cash

a million bucks
The chambers are only $392M apart in a $115B budget, but large differences remain in health care programs and prison spending.

The House and Senate are poised to pass their preferred spending plans (HB 5001, SB 2500) this week. While the packages are only separated by $392 million in total out of more than $115 billion, the chambers have significant differences in how they approach health care programs, prison funding and education.

Still, the $115.9 billion proposed by the Senate and the $115.5 billion passed by the House — a step down from the $117 billion current budget — show lawmakers recognize the COVID-19-era of federal stimulus funds and inflation-juiced sales tax revenues is coming to an end. However, the spending plans are still more than the $114.4 billion recommended by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

After the budgets pass off the floor, the next step is formal negotiations between the chambers to finalize the spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. To end the Regular Session by the scheduled March 8 end date, they need to reach an agreement by March 5 to account for the 72-hour “cooling off” period before lawmakers can vote on the budget once it’s published.

Here’s a look at the major differences between the chambers:

EDUCATION

In pre-K-12 schools, the budgets are mostly the same overall, with the House looking to spend $28.4 billion, while the Senate comes in at about $100 million less. The House and Senate plans both come out to about $8,937 per student, or $218 more than the current year.

But each chamber handles the increase in funds differently. The House sets aside $1.25 billion to hike teacher pay, an increase of $202 million on the current year, while the Senate puts more funding into the base funding for schools as a means of increasing teacher salaries.

HEALTH CARE

Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican, has pushed for a series of bills, dubbed the Live Healthy Act, which aim to increase the size of the state’s health care workforce through using incentives and funding more medical education and training programs.

That bill (SB 7016) uses $717 million and has already passed off the Senate floor. The House version is set to receive a hearing this week, but the bill is likely to be the subject of budget talks between the chambers given the large price tag.

Another flash point could be HB 5301, a budget conforming bill the House included as part of its spending plan. It prevents hospitals that aren’t participating in Direct Provider Payment (DPP), a Medicaid funding program, from receiving payments from two other Medicaid supplemental financing programs — the Low Income Pool (LIP) and graduate medical education (GRE).

The measure appears aimed at hospitals in Pasco and Pinellas counties that have been unable to agree on a self-imposed tax designed to generate local funds needed to participate in DPP. The Senate doesn’t have a similar bill in its slate of budget bills.

TRANSPORTATION AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Another large sector of the budget with small overall differences but important gaps in key programs is in transportation and economic development. The House plans to spend $14.3 billion on the transportation work program, the main five-year plan for road and other transportation infrastructure projects, while the Senate sets aside $14 billion.

For VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency, the Senate would leave it at current year funding of $80 million, while the House would cut it to $30 million.

The Job Growth Grant Fund, which allows DeSantis to give funds to local governments for road and employee training projects tied to job creation, would receive $75 million — the same as the current year budget — under the Senate version. The House sets aside just $25 million for the fund.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Florida’s creaking prison system, which features many facilities without air conditioning and older buildings, needs between $6.3 billion and $11.9 billion over the next 20 years to update facilities, according to a KPMG report released last year.

The Senate’s budget sets aside $3 billion over the next 10 years, using bonds to accomplish the goal. But the House doesn’t have a similar plan, so the issue will be addressed during the formal budget talks.

___

Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics contributed to this report.

Gray Rohrer



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