Lawmakers on both sides praise the $112.1 billion Florida budget that goes for a vote Monday
Among the budget items agreed upon is $20 million a year for 30 years to help finance a Moffitt Cancer Center expansion in Pasco County, and suspending state gas taxes in October.
Florida’s proposed budget will draw bipartisan support as lawmakers from both parties Friday praised the record $112.1 billion spending package for the 2022-2023 fiscal year.
With votes scheduled Monday, House and Senate members spent hours discussing details of the budget, which was finalized Thursday by Republican leaders.
The wide-ranging package includes such things as funding increases for public schools, an across-the-board 5.38% pay increase for state employees and money for a massive new prison. Democrats applauded various parts of the budget and related bills, such as a decision to help finance an expansion of Moffitt Cancer Center.
“I am smart enough to know when I should probably keep my mouth shut and say thank you,” Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, said. “When I look at the numbers for Tampa, specifically, I realized that I'm really in the baseball diamond of appropriations, I am really an outfielder. But I do think that we have to thank President Simpson (Senate President Wilton Simpson) and Speaker Sprowls (House Speaker Chris Sprowls) for the money that they've appropriated for Moffitt Cancer Center.”
Several Democrats, however, questioned $12 million that will go to transporting undocumented immigrants out of the state. Also, they objected to a decision to shut out 12 school districts from a $200 million pool of money because the districts required students to wear masks last year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I never heard of (how) trying to protect people ends in punishment, financial punishment for the various schools that they attend,” Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, said. “It's very disappointing that this particular language is in our budget bill.”
The package out of the Republican-dominated Legislature is bolstered by $3.46 billion in federal stimulus money. Stargel also pointed to higher-than-expected state tax revenues.
“Many have said we may be looking at a possible recession. We prepared for all of those things in this budget,” Stargel said. “But at the same time, (we) focused on what was the most important things in government, which is taking care of our vulnerable, taking care of our children that are in foster care, taking care of the families that take care of those children, making sure that our education system was funded with all that it needed, making sure that rural broadband was taken care of, making sure rural communities were taken care of.”
The proposed budget is up 10.4% from a spending plan approved for the current year. The legislative session was scheduled to end Friday, but a delay in hammering out budget terms will force lawmakers to return Monday to vote on the spending plan and related bills.
The related bills include a controversial environmental bill (SB 2508) dealing with water-related issues in South Florida. Environmental groups, boaters and Gov. Ron DeSantis objected to an early version of the bill, which was backed by Simpson. Some opponents expressed concerns the initial version would turn Lake Okeechobee into a reservoir for sugar farmers.
The final version would give more oversight to DeSantis and the Legislature on issues such as management of water in the lake. The Florida H20 Coalition, a group backed by Associated Industries of Florida, praised the work.
“As our state heads into a potentially severe drought, this budget and policy could not be more important,” Jim Spratt of the Florida H2O Coalition said in a prepared statement. “We — as a state — must ensure Florida families have enough water to drink.”
Trumbull and Stargel also reached agreement on a $200 million “School Recognition Program,” which will reward school districts that did not impose student mask requirements. DeSantis issued an executive order last year that sought to prevent mask mandates, and lawmakers followed in November by passing a law to prevent such mandates.
To be eligible for the program, Trumbull said, districts and charter schools must have followed the governor’s guidance on masks and performed well academically.
“You’re only eligible for it if your grades are good,” he said. “So, if your school grades are an A or a B, then that’s when you get the dollars. It has nothing to do with, hey, here’s some extra funds so that maybe you can perform better. It’s rewarding you for performing well.”
But Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-North Miami Beach, called it unjust to penalize schools that “flipped a coin” on the proper way to protect children during the pandemic.
“Does it seem fair that my school district, in an effort to protect kids and their lives and their safety, decided to follow the federal government and not an executive order?” Pizzo said. “Is that fair to reward others that decided to go with Ron and not Joe?”
The 12 ineligible districts are in Alachua, Brevard, Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Indian River, Leon, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach, Sarasota and Volusia counties.
An earlier version of the plan, labeled the “Putting Parents First Adjustment” had proposed shifting $200 million away from school districts that imposed mask requirements. Trumbull on Tuesday called the new plan “much more clean.”
At $48.9 billion, health and human services make up the largest chunk of the budget. That includes funding the Medicaid program, which has grown to more than 5 million beneficiaries.
Agreement was reached Thursday on providing $20 million a year for 30 years to help finance the Moffitt Cancer Center expansion in Pasco County.
Also, lawmakers agreed to rename a state cancer-research program as the Casey DeSantis Cancer Research Program. Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, though Gov. Ron DeSantis said last week his wife is considered “cancer free” after undergoing treatment.
Among other things, the health and human services agreement finalized a plan for nursing-home Medicaid payment rates to provide a minimum wage of $15 an hour for nursing home workers. That is part of a broader effort to boost wages to $15 an hour as the state prepares to comply with a constitutional amendment requiring a $15 minimum wage as of Sept. 30, 2026.
Meanwhile, a tax package, valued at $658 million, includes suspending state gas taxes for one month in October. Also, it includes a series of sales-tax “holidays.”
Another conforming bill (HB 5011) will set aside $1 billion as a hedge against increased government costs driven by inflation.
Jim Turner, Ryan Dailey and Jim Saunders contributed to this report.