State lawmakers face tough budget decisions in final four weeks of session

by | Apr 5, 2019

With four weeks remaining in the 2019 legislative session, the Florida House and Senate will focus their efforts on reaching a compromise on a spending plan for next year.

On Thursday both chambers approved record-setting budget proposals. The House plan totals $88.9 billion while the Senate proposal amounts to $90.3 billion — a difference of about $400 million. Each spending plan falls below the $91.3 billion budget Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed before the session started.

Working out a compromise won’t be easy.

The $2 billion that Hurricane Michael cost the state when it ripped through the Florida Panhandle last October adds to the strain placed on lawmakers to find a budget agreement.

Factor in the $350 million in annual payments the state stands to lose when its gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe expires in May, and the job of lawmakers gets even tougher.

“This is one of the more difficult budget years I’ve ever experienced,” said Senate President Bill Galvano after his chamber passed its budget  proposal Thursday afternoon.

There are some big differences between the two chambers in funding for schools, affordable housing and Visit Florida, just to name a few.

In education funding there is a $520 million difference between the two chambers. The Senate plan would increase school spending by $149 per student while the House proposal has a more conservative increase of $38 per student.

There are some big differences in the spending plans for higher education as well. The House is calling for a 2.5 percent reduction in the beginning base budget for universities, while the Senate proposes a 1.4 percent increase.  

The state’s affordable housing trust fund is another potential point of contention between the two chambers. The Senate would spend all $332 million on low-interest loans for builders of affordable housing and other programs, with a third of that would go to Panhandle areas impacted by Hurricane Michael.

The House plan would spend about $123 million on affordable housing for the Panhandle. The rest of the money in the trust fund would be allocated to areas that have nothing to do with affordable homes.

The tourism industry has fought to continue funding for Visit Florida saying the agency is essential to marketing Florida to the world, especially after hurricanes.

Funding Visit Florida is another area of contention. The House has tried for years to reduce or  completely eliminate funding for the state’s tourism marketing agency.

Spending for the agency has been maintained at the $76 million level in recent years. The Senate would reduce that level to $50 million with the House going further and proposing a drop in funding to $19 million. The House plan would essentially provide funding to keep Visit Florida in business through Oct. 1 when it is set to expire in state law.

The biggest difference between the two chambers is in the area of health care where there exists a $540 million between the House and Senate with the House proposing less. The big difference comes in the area of Medicaid funding.

With the session scheduled to end May 3, state lawmakers have exactly four weeks to resolve their differences and agree on a budget for the upcoming fiscal year.


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