Budget Notebook: Majority Of Florida's Spending Plan Returns To Presiding Officers

Apr 30, 2017

Credit Erich Martin

The Florida House and Senate budget teams are bumping numerous issues up to the chambers’ presiding officers.  The groups bundled a few major priorities for up or down votes ahead of the floor.

Despite meeting throughout the weekend, lawmakers are leaving many parts of the budget incomplete.  House chair Carlos Trujillo of Miami and Senate chair Jack Latvala of Clearwater couldn’t come together on spending for health, criminal justice, transportation and more. 

Health and Human Services alone makes up more than 40 percent of the overall budget. 

Still, Trujillo argues the conference committees made real progress.

“You know Government Ops, I want to say we’re right there—it’s just small cleanup language,” Trujillo says.  “The other one we accepted today was the water projects which was a big part of the Ag one.  The other offer was Higher Ed—we closed that out today.  K-12 I want to say we’re very close.”

“So those issues if they haven’t been settled it’s because they haven’t been settled.”

But by bumping the remaining budget to presiding officers, much of the negotiation will take place behind closed doors.  Lawmakers are planning additional meetings to settle issues like implementing language, but the bulk of this year’s spending plan will likely emerge on the House and Senate floor. 

Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater)
Credit Nick Evans

And that urge—to bundle proposals into one up or down vote—is evident in the approach for state benefits and employee pay raises.  Getting those increases was a coup for Latvala, but he explains House lawmakers wouldn’t accept the raises without changes in health insurance and the state retirement program.

“I’m doing that for protection—I mean that is a linked issue,” Latvala says.  “The House wanted the pension reform and the insurance reform in return for the pay raise.”

“So we’re putting it all in one place so it either all moves along or it all goes down the tubes.”

Those retirement program changes originally defaulted new hires into an investment rather than a pension program.  But now the plan gives employees eight full months to elect which retirement option they want.  For most workers, if they don’t make a choice, they go into the investment plan. 

The compromise gets Latvala’s raises through the House.  But viewed another way, it could push Democrats to get on board with changing the state pension plan.  By lumping pay raises—something Democrats have wanted for years—with new pension restrictions—which many Democrats worry about. 

Lawmakers have until Tuesday to settle on a spending plan if they want to get out of Tallahassee on time.