Florida House and Senate prepare state budget


TALLAHASSEE — House and Senate negotiators began narrowing budget gaps on Tuesday, with agreement on issues including a proposed minimum wage, spending for a new office of election investigation and the reorganization of salaries at the Department of Corrections.

But gaps remained as several conference committees face a Thursday deadline to agree on spending details. Questions that remain unresolved on Thursday will go to House Appropriations Chairman Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, and Senate Appropriations Chairman Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, for further negotiations.

“We’ve tried to work through our differences, primarily focusing our attention on departmental issues,” House Infrastructure & Tourism Appropriations President Jayer Williamson, R-Pace, said after an initial round of committee meetings. conference Tuesday morning.

The House entered negotiations with a budget proposal of $105.3 billion, while the Senate’s proposal was for $108.6 billion. Both would be record amounts as the state is loaded with federal stimulus money and higher-than-expected sales tax revenue.

Now it’s a question of where and how to allocate the money as lawmakers scramble to pass a budget before the scheduled March 11 end of the regular legislative session.

Related: 7 things to watch in the last two weeks of the Florida legislative session

As an example of the types of differences, the Chamber agreed to spend $50 million on tourism marketing agency Visit Florida, the same amount as the current year. But the Senate wants that amount on a “recurring” basis, which could make it more permanent.

Additionally, the Senate planned to spend $209.5 million on the State Housing Initiatives Partnership program and an additional $128.25 million on other affordable housing programs. The House proposed $286.1 million that would go solely to the so-called SHIP program.

The House’s first budget offer, meanwhile, would cut funding for the Jobs Growth Grants program, which provides funds for infrastructure and job training that Gov. Ron DeSantis can use at his discretion. The Senate budget also did not include funding for the program, while DeSantis requested $100 million.

The House and Senate also agreed to spend $1.159 million to create an Office of Election Crimes and Security at the State Department. DeSantis made creating the office a priority, although he sought more money for it. Lawmakers are also expected to pass a separate bill (HB 7061 or SB 524) to create the office.

The House budget offer maintained $20 million for a law enforcement recruiting bonus program also sought by DeSantis. While the Senate budget proposal didn’t mention money for the program, the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday passed a House bill (HB 3) that would lead to spending the $20 million on efforts recruitment.

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As he opened negotiations on the health and human services budget, House Health Care Appropriations Chairman Bryan Avila, R-Miami Springs, said the House had accepted a salary proposal minimum of $15 an hour which was a priority of Senate Speaker Wilton Simpson. , R-Trilby.

Simpson called for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour for various types of jobs, including for health care workers under the Medicaid program. A 2020 constitutional amendment requires a phased increase in the state minimum wage, which will reach $15 per hour on September 30, 2026.

In a Feb. 17 statement, Simpson said the Senate is “investing $1 billion to ensure that Floridians who work for the state or under contract to the state and spend every day educating, protecting and caring for others in our communities earn at least $15. per hour. I’m thrilled to see the Senate leading the charge to implement a $15 hourly wage for those who serve the public, from our cafeteria workers to those who care for our seniors, well before the constitutional deadline.

The two houses agreed to spend $78 million to realign base salaries within the Department of Corrections, but remained separate from $20 million in funding for private prisons.

Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Chairman Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, said the talks appear to be going “in the right direction,” with the state getting at least one new prison, rather than the two sought by the state. Senate, with a new hospital for prisoners. .

“We have an aging prison population. So we have to do something medically,” Perry said. “The conditions aren’t just that they’re old and outdated, they’re not safe. They are dangerous for the prisoners. They are dangerous for correctional officers. So with a facility designed to be safer and used more efficiently, we will get there. I don’t know if we will have two, but we will have one.

By Jim Turner and Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida

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Cover of the Tampa Bay Times Legislative Assembly in Florida

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