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Florida’s record $112.1 billion budget has bipartisan support | Florida News | Tampa


Florida’s proposed budget will enjoy bipartisan support as lawmakers from both parties on Friday hailed the record $112.1 billion spending package for the 2022-23 fiscal year.

With votes scheduled for Monday, House and Senate members spent hours discussing details of the budget, which was finalized by Republican leaders on Thursday.

The far-reaching program includes things like funding increases for public schools, a 5.38% general wage increase for state employees, and money for a massive new prison. Democrats applauded various parts of the budget and related bills, such as the decision to help fund the expansion of the Moffitt Cancer Center.

“I’m smart enough to know when I should probably shut up and say thank you,” said Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa. “When I look at the Tampa numbers, in particular, I realized that I’m really in the credits baseball diamond, I’m really an outfielder. But I think we have to thank President Simpson (Senate Speaker Wilton Simpson) and President Sprows (House Speaker Chris Sprows) for the money they have earmarked for the Moffitt Cancer Center.

Several Democrats, however, have questioned $12 million that will go to transporting undocumented immigrants out of state. Additionally, they objected to a decision to exclude 12 school districts from a $200 million pool of money because districts required students to wear masks last year during the COVID-19 pandemic. 19.

“I’ve never heard of (how) trying to protect people ends up in punishment, financial punishment for the different schools they go to,” said Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville. “It is very disappointing that this particular language is in our budget bill.”

The Republican-dominated Legislature’s package is bolstered by $3.46 billion in federal stimulus funds. Stargel also pointed to higher-than-expected state tax revenues.

“Many have said that we may be looking at a possible recession. We prepared for all of these things in this budget,” Stargel said. “But at the same time, (we) focused on what were the most important things in government, which was taking care of our vulnerable people, taking care of our children who are in foster care, taking care of the families caring for those children, making sure our education system is funded with everything it needs, making sure rural broadband is supported, making sure rural communities are taken care of.

The proposed budget is 10.4% higher than the approved expenditure plan for the current year. The legislative session was due to end on Friday, but a delay in crafting budget terms will force lawmakers back on Monday to vote on the spending plan and related bills.

Related bills include a controversial environmental bill (SB 2508) addressing water issues in South Florida. Environmental groups, boaters and Gov. Ron DeSantis opposed an early version of the bill, which was backed by Simpson. Some opponents have expressed concerns that the initial version would turn Lake Okeechobee into a reservoir for sugar producers.

The final version would give DeSantis and the legislature more control over issues such as water management in the lake. The Florida H20 Coalition, a group supported by Associated Industries of Florida, praised the work.

“As our state heads into a potentially severe drought, this budget and policy couldn’t be more important,” Jim Spratt of the Florida H2O Coalition said in a prepared statement. “We – as a state – need to make sure Florida families have enough water to drink.”

Trumbull and Stargel also reached an agreement on a $200 million “school recognition program,” which will reward school districts that have not imposed mask requirements on students. DeSantis issued an executive order last year aimed at preventing mask mandates, and lawmakers followed in November by passing legislation to prevent such mandates.

To be eligible for the program, Trumbull said, districts and charter schools must have followed the governor’s advice on masks and be in good academic standing.

“You are only eligible if your grades are good,” he said. “So if your school grades are an A or a B, that’s when you get the money. It has nothing to do with, hey, here’s some extra funds so you might be able to perform better. It’s rewarding you for performing well.

But Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-North Miami Beach, called it unfair to penalize schools for “tossing a coin” on the right way to protect children during the pandemic.

“Is it fair that my school district, in an effort to protect children, their lives and their safety, has decided to follow the federal government and not an executive order? says Pizza. “Is it fair to reward others who decided to go with Ron and not Joe?”

The 12 ineligible districts are in Alachua, Brevard, Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Indian River, Leon, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach, Sarasota and Volusia counties.

An earlier version of the plan, titled “Putting Parents First,” proposed taking $200 million away from school districts that imposed mask requirements. Trumbull on Tuesday called the new plan “a lot cleaner.”

At $48.9 billion, health and social services make up the largest portion of the budget. This includes funding for the Medicaid program, which now has more than 5 million beneficiaries.

A deal was reached Thursday to provide $20 million a year for 30 years to help fund the expansion of Moffitt Cancer Center in Pasco County.

Additionally, lawmakers agreed to rename a state cancer research program as the Casey DeSantis Cancer Research Program. Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, though Governor Ron DeSantis said last week his wife was considered “cancer-free” after undergoing treatment.

Among other things, the Health and Human Services Agreement finalized a plan for nursing home Medicaid payment rates to provide a minimum wage of $15 an hour for nursing home workers. It’s part of a larger effort to raise wages to $15 an hour as the state prepares to comply with a constitutional amendment requiring a $15 minimum wage beginning Sept. 30, 2026.

Meanwhile, a tax package, valued at $658 million, includes suspending state gasoline taxes for a month in October. In addition, it includes a series of sales tax “holidays”.

Another compliant bill (HB 5011) will set aside $1 billion as a hedge against rising government costs driven by inflation.