(The Center Square) – The Florida House’s tentative $97.1 billion spending plan allocates more than $10 billion in federal pandemic assistance while the Senate’s proposed preliminary $95 billion budget makes believe it doesn’t exist.
How that somehow makes sense and how it comes together into one Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) budget that aligns with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ $96.6 billion spending request – now $100.9 billion with $4.3 billion in federal monies added – will be the gritty nub of contention the next five weeks before the session adjourns on April 30.
Both chambers’ appropriations committees gave preliminary approvals to their proposed FY22 spending plans Wednesday.
The House Appropriations Committee approved the chamber’s proposed $97.1 billion FY22 spending plan, outlined in the 82-page APC 21-01, in a 26-4 vote with five of the panel’s Democrats in support.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved 40 of 41 amendments to its $95 billion spending proposal and will again review the 423-page budget, SPB 2500, Friday morning.
The biggest difference between the three is the House allocates all $10.2 billion in federal aid from the recently adopted $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, DeSantis earmarks $4.3 billion – adding $216 million Tuesday to give all Florida public school teachers and principals each $1,000 bonuses – while Senate budget writers opted not to include any federal assistance while slashing $2.5 billion in spending this and next fiscal year.
That conservative approach, said Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and Senate Appropriations Chair Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, is to ensure the non-recurring federal money is well spent.
They acknowledged the Senate plan is also based on obsolete revenue projections that will be updated next week and could allow some cuts to be restored.
The good news in that regard arrived Wednesday when the Legislature’s Office of Economic & Demographic Research reported February general-revenue collections came in $298.5 million above forecasts.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a series of amendments and tweaks to SPB 2500. Most were $250,000 “switch-outs” with funding allocated for one program transferred to another with several $500,000 allocations to water projects and $1 million dedicated to the Statewide Capital Depreciation Fund to be sent instead to a Florida Keys environmental program.
The lone rejected amendment was filed by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who wanted $50 million for a Polk County courthouse project reassigned with $30 million going to a courthouse project in Pinellas County and $20 million to give $2,000 bonuses to corrections officers.
House Appropriations Committee Chair Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, told his committee the chamber’s proposed spending plan is 5 percent larger than the current fiscal year’s $92.2 billion budget, which he attributed much of that increase to the 730,000 Floridians who have enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged last March.
“It’s a balanced budget that reflects our belief that the state should not spend more than it takes in and makes strategic investments for our future,” he said.
The House budget earmarks $2 billion in federal assistance for state reserves, which will receive $5 billion overall. The Senate’s proposed budget also places $5 billion in reserves.
The House budget would trim hospital funding by $500 million, which is a big hole to patch with federal assistance, warned Rep. Nicholas Duran, D-Miami.
“We have to take into account that these hospital and health care systems were there at the front end of this pandemic and that we’re still in this pandemic,” Duran said. “When the governor identified … a route to vaccinations or testing, each of our hospital systems stepped up to take on that challenge, not something that is necessarily within their day-to-day operations.”