A spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year is coming into view as both chambers of the Legislature finalize their respective budget proposals. Wednesday the House Appropriations Committee signed off on that chamber’s $75 billion spending plan.
The economic recovery means there’s more money to be spent in this year’s budget, and state lawmakers are wasting no time allocating it. The House’s $75.3 billion budget is more than $1 billion more than what Governor Rick Scott proposed.
“Certainly, relative to the Governor’s proposal, the Governor has done a great job for our state and he’s provided a lot of great recommendations, some of which we picked up in this budget and others that we didn’t," said House Appropriations Chairman Seth McKeel during the House Appropriations Committee meeting.
In this, an election year, the governor has proposed salary increases for most state employees. But under the House plan, most of those workers won’t see any additional salary boost.
The big winner when it comes to dollars may be education. The House is requesting a $208 per student increase in funding. All told, that’d mean K-12 education costs taxpayers $14 billion next fiscal year. State leaders have called it an “historic” amount of spending, but it’s not the most money the state has ever spent. Prior to the Great Recession, the state’s per-student spending had topped $7,000. This year’s increase brings that amount to $6, 988.
While Democrats claim not to be impressed with the Education budget, they’re downright salty about healthcare. The state is planning to spend more than $30 billion on Health and Human Services next year, with $22 billion of that funding Medicaid for low-income people. House Healthcare Appropriations Committee Chairman Matt Hudson notes that unlike the past few years, there are no spending cuts to Medicaid:
“Members, there are many things to be proud of in this budget," he said. "We fully fund the Medicaid program to serve an anticipated 3.7 million Medicaid beneficiaries. No category of Medicaid eligibility is eliminated or reduced. No provider rates are reduced below current fiscal year levels.”
That doesn’t appease Democrats. Republican legislative leaders continue to oppose expanding Medicaid with money offered by the federal government, despite bills to do so filed in both chambers. It’s a sore subject in the Legislature, as evidenced by this back-and-forth between the House minority leader and Hudson:
“Rep. Pafford indicated he believed there was no desire to expand or accept any money for healthcare expansion in this budget...is there any desire to accept the healthcare expansion for this budget?” Said Democratic Representative Perry Thurston. Hudson replied, “If you’re asking me if there is a desire to expand Medicaid and if that’s reflected in this budget, the answer is no.”
Perceived disparities between how the state funds public defenders and state attorneys may become a budget sticking point as the budget process moves forward. As has historically been the case, the defenders receive less money than the attorneys. It’s an historical disparity that irks Tampa Democratic Representative Janet Cruz.
“I also want to mention and speak up for my public defender who I worked for a few years and who has an office staff of 210 employees who work very hard. The disparity between the state attorneys and public defenders office I will never understand and I feel is an injustice," she said.
The Senate Appropriations Committee will take up its budget plans for the upcoming year Thursday. Once both chambers have voted on their bills, differences will be ironed out in conference committees. The budget is the only bill that must be approved before the Legislature adjourns its annual lawmaking session.