Florida lawmakers got down to work this week on writing a budget for the next fiscal year.
Both the Senate and House spending plans come in at just over $87 billion, with the House budget about a $100 million dollars less than the Senate.
One area that is raising concern for some lawmakers is what’s referred to as “the sweeping” of trust funds, or accounts that were set up for a specific purpose.
The Senate plan sweeps $124 million, while the House sweeps $397 million — money that can be used in the general revenue portion of the budget to help pay for general government costs.
A group of Central and South Florida Democrats are upset those sweeps will impact two funds that are intended to be used to build affordable housing. They say lawmakers have dipped into those funds too often in recent years and the sweeping of those programs needs to stop.
“Over the past decade, more than $1 billion dollars — with a ‘b’ — has been diverted from Florida’s housing program,” said Rep. Sean Shaw, D-Tampa. “We also have the situation with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and the hardships have added to those problems.”
Democrats are particularly upset with the raiding of the affordable housing trust funds given the influx of Puerto Rican residents who have evacuated to Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. They argue the funds are being diverted while Puerto Rican families are being forced to live in their cars.
“The lawmakers who are in control of this process don’t quite seem to understand why these affordable housing programs are so important and they clearly don’t see the value in these programs, which is why they sweep them year after year,” said Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando.
But House budget leaders say it’s still early in the budget making process.
“You know that the budget will change,” Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, chairman of the House budget committee told House members during a meeting on Wednesday.
House Democrats find little consolation in the budget chairman’s words.