Florida House, Senate Budgets Differ On Stimulus Money

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami / NSF) – The Florida House and Senate committees on Wednesday tabled budget proposals that are $ 2 billion apart and have different approaches to $ 10 billion in federal incentive money going to the state government.

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The House’s $ 97 billion proposal calls for the federal money to be used for a range of expenses, including paying for the tedious maintenance of buildings, improving the state’s unemployment system, and creating a new emergency reserve in the governor’s office.

The Senate decided with a 95 billion dollar package (2500 SPB) not to take into account the expected inflow of stimulus money. Senate Chair for Funds Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said specific details about federal funding remain unclear.

“I hope the source of funding will be available to us later in the meeting as more information becomes available,” said Stargel.

The vote on the budget proposals of the Senate Funds Committee and the Budget Committee on Wednesday was a first step as leaders prepare to negotiate a final spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Legislators are expected to see an increase in cash available on Tuesday State economists revise general revenue estimates.

Jay Trumbull, chairman of House Appropriations, R-Panama City, said after his committee meeting he expected improved budget numbers as monthly revenue surpassed forecast.

“We will see what the (estimated) conference on the 6th next week shows and then of course we will be able to re-evaluate the budget during the conference (negotiations),” said Trumbull.

The House of Representatives proposal (PCB APC 21-01), backed by the Trumbull Committee in a 26-4 vote, would use $ 3.5 billion of stimulus money towards deferred maintenance needs in state and school facilities. Among other things, it would provide $ 2 billion to offset lost revenue in the state transportation trust fund. Provided $ 1 billion to fund a new emergency preparedness and response fund in the governor’s office; and $ 630 million in environmental programs that include beach rehabilitation, resilience, and septic tank conversion.

The House plan also provides for a $ 2.2 billion increase in reserves.

“We need healthy reserves to protect the state’s financial prospects, to cover the ongoing costs of responding to pandemics, and to ensure we have enough money for the hurricane season, which unfortunately begins in just two months,” said Trumbull.

Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg said the house plan missed opportunities to do more to help Floridians with the stimulus money. He pointed to parts of the budget that include, for example, cuts to health programs and higher education.

One problem with funding public schools is a projected drop in students of 48,000 students due to the coronavirus pandemic. Randy Fine, chairman of House PreK-12 Appropriations, R-Brevard County, said the house’s budget would be $ 334 million if more students returned to classes next year than predicted.

“We recognize the fact that there may be more students returning than school districts and the state have predicted,” said Fine.

The Senate proposal would set aside $ 350 million for the number of students enrolled.

The House’s budget proposal would cut college funding by 7 percent, which, according to Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, is not a “slash and burn” approach.

“There are no cuts in needs-based financial support,” said Plasencia, chair of the subcommittee on funding for higher education. “There are no discounts on Bright Futures tuition fees or fee premiums. There are no tuition increases or reductions for colleges or universities in the current year. “

House plans to end the $ 600 textbook scholarship available annually to Bright Futures scholarship recipients, representing a $ 37.5 million reduction in expenses.

“We have made great strides in making textbooks affordable in recent years. And… we focus on open access textbooks that can be used by all students, not just a few, ”said Plasencia.

Rep. James Bush, D-Miami, expressed concern that new performance-related requirements for a grant program known as Effective Access to Student Education (EASE) could harm students. The program provides assistance to students attending private colleges and universities, and the house would add requirements for school graduation, retention, and placement rates.

“The $ 2,800 students are now receiving is really not much, but they depend on it to survive and stay in school,” said Bush.

The House plan would allocate $ 665.8 million to Everglades restoration and water projects and $ 100 million to the Florida Forever land conservation program. The Senate proposes $ 786 million for the Everglades and $ 50 million for Florida Forever.

The House and Senate would keep funding for Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing arm, at $ 50 million.

Along with the budget proposals, the House and Senate committees have tabled several bills, including similar proposals (HB 5401 and SPB 2512) to change the distribution of some of the taxes on document stamps currently aimed at affordable housing. According to the proposals, two-thirds of this money would be used to tackle the effects of sea level rise and improve wastewater treatment.

The money is currently flowing into programs for affordable housing through the so-called Sadowski Trust Fund. This trust fund is an annual target by lawmakers who divert or “sweep” money to help pay for programs unrelated to affordable housing.

Affordable housing, which averaged $ 160 million a year over the past five years, would reach $ 141.9 million in the next fiscal year without additional incentive funding.

Affordable housing advocates criticized the proposal to use money for other purposes, but the proposal is part of an agreement between House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, and Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.

(© 2021 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. Do not publish, broadcast, rewrite, or redistribute this material. Jim Turner, Florida News Service contributed to this report.)

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