Lawmakers set to pass $117.46B budget

Florida Capitol building with capital complex tower behind in Tallahassee [Stock image]

Home » Government
Posted March 6, 2024 | By Jim Turner and Ryan Dailey
Florida News Service

TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s 60-day legislative session is expected to end on time Friday after the release Tuesday of a $117.46 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

House Speaker Paul Renner announced at 11:49 a.m. Tuesday that the spending plan was “on the desk,” after House and Senate budget leaders finished negotiations Monday.

“It was a textbook smooth process,” Renner said. “And given the hour of the day, that means we’re going to be able to have a pretty good Friday and spend the weekend at home.”

Renner’s comments came one minute after the budget for the 2024-2025 fiscal year was made available. That started a required 72-hour “cooling off” period before lawmakers can vote on the budget, which will be nearly 1.4 percent smaller than the budget for the current fiscal year, which will end June 30.

But overall state spending will be higher than the $117.46 billion in the budget because of separate legislation. For example, lawmakers have approved spending $717 million in a major health-care bill (SB 7016) that includes efforts to attract more doctors to the state.

A Senate news release said the budget includes spending $500 million to pay down state debt. It also comes after the state budget was boosted in recent years by federal money related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As the timeline to spend pandemic funds is coming to (an) end, we are making smart, fiscally responsible adjustments and right-sizing our balanced budget to a level sustainable for the long term,” Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said in a prepared statement.

As the legislative session began in January, leaders discussed a need to tighten spending. Gov. Ron DeSantis in December proposed a $114.4 billion budget.

The negotiated budget includes a 3 percent pay raise for state employees, with additional increases at the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and for agents who protect DeSantis and his family.

The budget includes a $1.8 billion increase in funding for public schools over the current fiscal year, which will mean a $240 bump in per-student spending.

Senate Education Appropriations Chairman Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, pointed to $1.2 billion in the budget for increasing teacher salaries and said it was “renewing our commitment” to educators. That amount represents a roughly $200 million increase for teacher pay over the current year.

Lawmakers also included a $40 million increase in school safety funding, bringing the total to $290 million, and a $20 million boost to school mental-health funding, bringing the total to $180 million.

The Florida Education Association, a statewide teachers union, said the budget wouldn’t go far enough in supporting students and educators.

“Florida has the fourth largest economy in the nation, yet Florida’s budget doesn’t reflect that,” union President Andrew Spar said in a prepared statement. “Make no mistake — our state has the ability to provide funds to pay teachers and education staff professionals fairly, to fully fund public education, to ensure teacher vacancies are filled so every child can have an educator trained in their subject, yet chooses not to make these real issues a priority year after year.”

In a news release, the union pointed to the money in the budget for teacher salaries, saying it would “need to cover roughly 200,000 educators.”

“While $200 million sounds historic, the truth is, the salary increases being proposed in Florida’s budget don’t move the needle far enough or fast enough for educators working toward a better life,” the FEA said in a statement.

In higher education, the budget has just shy of $750 million in what’s known as capital-outlay funding for state colleges and universities. The funds can be used for such things as construction and maintenance projects.

The budget also includes more than $230 million for maintenance and repair projects at charter schools.

On environmental issues, the budget includes $702 million for Everglades restoration and operations at the South Florida Water Management District. Meanwhile, flood and sea-level rise programs would get $125 million, while $55 million would go toward natural springs.

The budget doesn’t include an additional $5 million DeSantis sought for a program that has transported undocumented immigrants to out-of-state “sanctuary” communities. Instead, about $9 million still available in the current year would roll into next fiscal year.

“We’re trying to craft a responsible budget and if the funds were not used (in the current fiscal year), we revert and reappropriate them,” Passidomo told reporters. “We’ll see how it goes over the next year. And if those funds are used, we’ll be able to appropriate more in the next budget cycle.”

The spending plan includes $528.6 million for land acquisition and management programs, which include Florida Forever and the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. Another $17 million will go to continuing a program that offers $5,000 bonuses to new law-enforcement recruits and to attract veteran officers from other states.

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