Tuesday is the final day for legislative leaders to reach an agreement on a budget plan in order to meet the required 72-hour cooling off period and allowing lawmakers to wrap up the 60-day 2019 legislative session on Friday as scheduled.
State law requires a three day waiting period between the time a budget deal is reached and when lawmakers are able to vote on the plan. The waiting period is intended to give legislators more time to study the budget and have a better understanding of what it contains before voting on them.
Budget conference committees and appropriations chairs from each chamber have been meeting for the past week trying to hammer out a compromise between the House’s $89.9 billion spending plan and the Senate’s $90.3 billion budget proposal.
One area that appears to have survived another budget year is the state’s tourism marketing agency. Visit Florida, which has been the target of criticism from the Florida House because of its spending practices. The agency appeared to have its funding cut when the Senate acquiesced to the House position which provided $19 million to keep Visit Florida open through Oct. 1 when the agency is due to sunset.
But, Monday night, the House agreed to go along with the Senate proposal which would provide $50 million to Visit Florida to keep the agency funded for another year to allow Gov. Ron DeSantis to evaluate its effectiveness. That’s a significant budget cut for Visit Florida which has received $76 million in recent years.
Also Monday evening, Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley and House Appropriations Chairman Travis Cummings reached agreement on a plan that would continue funding for an economic development program, known as the Job Growth Grant Fund.
The fund was the creation of former Gov. Rick Scott in 2017. It resulted from a dispute with House leadership over the operations and economic development spending of Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida. The appropriations chairs agreed to provide $40 million, which is less than half of what has been budgeted for the program the past two years, as a result of a request by DeSantis.
Most higher education funding issues were also resolved by Monday evening, although the House had some concerns over funding for building projects under the Public Education Capital Outlay program, or PECO fund. The House has been critical of the way some universities have managed money for building projects, especially a financial scandal at the University of Central Florida in which House investigators found university officials misused millions of state dollars for a capital project.
Both chambers are expected to meet again during a lunch break on Tuesday to try to bridge together the remaining issues that separate the two sides.