House And Senate Prepare To Negotiate $4B In Budget Differences

Apr 13, 2017

The House and Senate are between $2 billion to $4 billion apart on their spending proposals for the upcoming fiscal year, depending on how you count. Debate over the bills began Wednesday in both chambers.

The Senate’s $83 billion plan doesn’t include about $2 billion in tuition the state’s colleges and universities are expected to generate. If included, the Senate plan is closer to $85 billion. Other big differences include a gap in environmental spending, driven by the Senate’s plan to spend more than a billion dollars over the next decade for water projects in Central Florida. Sen. Rob Bradley says the plan encompasses different regions, but water storage south of Lake Okeecheobee remains the priority.

“This effort that started 20 years ago requires Northern, western and eastern storage, We had four hours of testimony of this, and every witness said storage south of the lake is a necessary component."

That’s not in the House’s $81 billion plan. But the House also has issues its pushing, like $200 million  to lure more nationally-recognized charter schools into the state. It’s a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran in an attempt to address failing schools. The House also has dollars for the teacher bonus program Best and Brightest. That money  isn't  in the Senate plan, though Senate education budget chair David Simmons says that could change.

“We do contemplate working with our colleagues in the house to expand the Best and Brightest program so that it includes other factors besides those set forth in the House’s initial program from last year.” 

Education is one of the biggest gaps between the House and Senate. When it comes to K-12, the chambers are more than $500 million apart, largely driven by a difference of opinion on how to count increased revenues from local property taxes in the spending plan. Per-student spending would increase by more than $200  a student in the Senate due to the property taxes, while the House would increase that funding by about $20 dollars a student. 

There is the ongoing philosophical debate on whether to cut off the state’s tourism development agency, and its business recruitment arm--both favorites of Governor Rick Scott, who continues to bash House lawmakers for voting to kill Enterprise Florida.

“Right now, you have to call your House members. Clay Ingram, Frank Wright Mel Ponder, Chair Williamson," Scott said during a recent trip announcing the arrival of Navy Federal Bank. "They all voted to shut down Enterprise Florida…and restrict marketing our state to tourists. That doesn’t make any sense to me, I’m all about creating jobs.”

Jobs aren't the only issue before lawmakers. Employee pay raises are of concern too.  Could this be the year state employees get a pay hike? If Senate budget chairman Jack Latvala gets his way, the answer could be yes.

“We know its been a long time since state employees have had a pay raise across the board. We’ve had a bonus, different groups have had pay bonuses. But its been about nine years since there have been across the board pay raises," Latvala told the chamber Wednesday.

Latvala wants to provide workers making up to $40,000 a year a $1,400 pay  bump. Those above the threshold would get $1,000. But the House takes a more targeted approach with extra money for correctional officers but few others, only. The chambers are slated to approve their respected spending plans Thursday. After an extended weekend, they’ll start ironing out the differences.