House, Senate pass budgets at odds on prisons, COLA, more

Tallahassee, FL, USA - February 11, 2022: Florida State Capitol
'We want to make sure we have spending capacity for the things that matter most — public safety, infrastructure, education — things that all people on all sides of the aisle agree upon.'

The House and Senate have passed their preferred budgets off their floors. But major differences remain on capital improvements for prisons and state worker retirement benefits to be resolved in formal talks between the chambers later in the Regular Session.

The House budget is $115.5 billion, with the Senate version coming in at $392 million more. The funding is less than the $117 billion current budget, but House leaders have warned of the need to pull back on spending in the face of federal stimulus from the COVID-19 era being phased out and revenue growth declining.

The House spending plan (HB 5001) passed 112-2, with only Reps. Bruce Antone, an Orlando Democrat, and Angie Nixon, a Jacksonville Democrat, voting against it. Antone said he’ll likely vote for the final budget after talks with the Senate, but bemoaned the lack of projects for Legislative Black Caucus members in the budget, noting he only got a $62,500 project in the budget.

“I can’t even start up the bulldozer with that,” Antone said.

House Speaker Paul Renner, a Palm Coast Republican, rebuffed the complaint, noting member projects have grown in the budget in recent years along with the overall budget. But as federal spending evaporates and revenue growth slows, Renner said funding is needed in core areas.

“There’s still a lot of member projects,” Renner told reporters after the vote. “We want to make sure we have spending capacity for the things that matter most — public safety, infrastructure, education — things that all people on all sides of the aisle agree upon.”

The Senate budget (SB 2500) passed unanimously.

One area of the spending plan that will have to be resolved in budget conference talks is funding for capital improvements in the state prison system. The Senate has a plan (SB 2510) to set up a fund to put $100 million per year over the next 30 years to upgrade Florida’s decaying prisons. The House doesn’t have a similar program in its budget.

Another key difference is the House plan (HB 151) to add a 3% cost of living adjustment (COLA) for state workers enrolled in the Florida Retirement System before July 1, 2011. The Senate doesn’t have a similar plan in its budget.

The next step in the budget process is for House and Senate leaders to agree on top-line numbers for each section of the budget, setting the stage for formal talks between the chambers.

Lawmakers must reach an agreement on the final spending plan by March 5 to meet the 72-hour “cooling off” period required by the constitution before they can vote on the measure to end the 60-day Regular Session on the scheduled March 8 end date.

Gray Rohrer


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