Florida Legislature Approves $82.3B Spending Plan On Near-Unanimous Vote

Mar 11, 2016

Credit Nick Evans

Florida will spend a whopping $82.3 billion to fund state services for the 2016-2017 fiscal year. The state spending plan includes a boost for education, no state employee pay raises and tax cuts that fall short of what Governor Rick Scott wanted.

Governor Rick Scott did not get his top two priorities: an additional $250 million for the economic development agency Enterprise Florida, and $1b worth of tax cuts. But the Florida legislature's overwhelming approval of the budget, 119-1 in the House and 40-0 in the Senate, is seen by many as a show of strength to ward off line item vetoes.

Those margins show lawmakers could have well above the necessary votes needed to override any vetoes. But coming back to do so, in an election year, is another matter.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee estimates Scott could cut around $500 million in member-backed projects that trickle down to local cities, counties and organizations.

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Well, the Florida Legislature’s sixty-day session is finally done.  The House and Senate Friday took their vote on a budget worth just over 80 billion dollars.

Monday night, Sen. Tom Lee (R-Brandon) and his House counterpart Rep. Richard Corcoran (R-Land O’ Lakes) finished off this year’s budget negotiations.  But there are a couple of steps between that agreement and Friday’s vote.

“It takes staff at least twelve hours.” Corcoran said, about printing the budget.  “So nine plus twelve you’re looking at like nine in the morning, so I mean clearly it will be on the desk some time during the day tomorrow.”

With 160 members and a 400-plus page spending plan, twelve hours begins to make sense.  The tome wound up on lawmakers’ desks Tuesday at 2:53 in the afternoon—they can’t take a vote budgets for 72 hours.  Lawmakers began discussing the plan Thursday on the House floor.

All told, the measure lays out $82.3 billion in spending.  As the House began digging into the proposal, many GOP lawmakers had glowing reviews for the bill.  Jacksonville Rep. Charles McBurney (R-Jacksonville) compares this year’s budget to the others in recent memory.

“We had tough choices,” he said.  “This budget is not one of them.  This is actually one we can all get together on which is something that we haven’t been able to do since we started in that great recession.”

And McBurney’s right.  Their support was tempered somewhat, but House Democrats voiced support for the budget as well.

“You know the budget has improved, and today I’m going to support the budget,” Minority Leader Mark Pafford said.  “I’m going to vote for the budget, and I want to send a very clear message to the legislature in the other chamber and frankly in the governor’s mansion that the house has defined itself and I think done a good job.”

And it seems clear sending a message to the governor is a bipartisan effort—between both chambers only one lawmaker voted no.   Building support among the Democratic caucus is a warning for Governor Rick Scott: be careful with the veto pen, because we have the support to override you. 

But there were quibbles, and one of the most forceful critiques came from Rep. Charles Van Zant (R-Keystone Heights) on the topic of public employee pay.

“I can tell you, for the past three years I have struggled with some of our state employees that we underpay to the extent that their families qualify for welfare and foodstamps,” Van Zant said.  “That’s.  Not.  Right.”

Friday the Senate took up the budget, and again, there were some quibbles.  Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) lamented the loss of economic development funding for the coming year.

“It’s the elephant in the room,” Latvala says.  “It’s probably the most disappointing aspect of this legislative session for me personally, and that is the governor’s request for a $250 million enterprise fund program.”

That initiative was a priority for Governor Rick Scott along with a one billion dollar tax cut package.  Under the new spending plan Scott gets neither.  Lawmakers are already bracing for a vicious round of vetoes.