Florida House, Senate release competing state budget plans
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Republican-led Florida House and Senate on Friday released competing budget proposals for the upcoming year with major funding differences in areas such as education and the environment — and an uncertain future for millions of dollars in Seminole Tribe gambling money.
The legislative plans also differ in many ways with the $91.3 billion spending blueprint proposed last month by GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis. The overall House total is $89.9 billion, while the Senate figure is $90.3 billion.
House and Senate committees will consider the bills next week. All three budget proposals for fiscal 2019-2020 are higher overall than current state government spending levels. The new fiscal year begins July 1.
On education, the Senate wants an overall $1.1 billion increase for public schools, while the House increase is $600 million. DeSantis’ plan is closer to the House figure. The Senate amount also includes about $600 million that local school districts could use for teacher raises or other needs.
Senate President Bill Galvano said it’s a tight budget year, particularly with plans to spend an additional $219.9 billion on Hurricane Michael recovery needs that brings the total state commitment to $1.8 billion since the storm hit the Panhandle on Oct. 10.
“The tremendous amount of funding the state has invested in hurricane recovery placed significant constraints on our budget that guided every facet of our decision making in all other areas,” said Galvano, a Bradenton Republican. “Despite this significant challenge, I am pleased the Senate put forward a balanced budget that focuses on Florida’s future, making historic investments in K-12 education and replenishing state reserves severely depleted following Hurricane Michael.”
Both legislative plans contain money for Everglades restoration and water quality improvements. The House is about $18 million below the $625 million sought by the governor, while the Senate figure is significantly higher. The money would include efforts to study and reduce outbreaks of red tide and blue-green algae, plans for a critical Everglades reservoir, protection of Florida’s natural springs and work on problems with septic tanks.
“Our budget also makes critical investments to restore and conserve Florida’s environment, including $656 million for water quality and protection,” said GOP Sen. Rob Bradley of Fleming Island, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “This includes a significant increase in funding for both red tide research and water quality improvements.”
House Speaker Jose Oliva told reporters that chamber’s budget plan is based on a goal of keeping overall spending at about $4,800 per Florida resident, which is lower than the current level.
“The overall goal is to be below what we spent last year per resident,” said Oliva, a Miami Lakes Republican. “How much of that? The more the better obviously in our opinion, but that’s the goal we set for ourselves.”
Another issue for legislators is whether to count on about $300 million in gambling money from the Seminole Tribe as talks continue on whether the tribe will renew its revenue sharing agreement with the state. Galvano said the Senate doesn’t want to include dollars that are not promised at the moment.
Since 2010, the Seminoles have paid the state more than $2.2 billion under a compact that guaranteed them the exclusive rights to offer games such as blackjack.
“What I’ve said is that there’s a process and there are stages to that process,” Galvano told reporters. “And step one is to stabilize the legal issues between the state and the tribe — or not.”
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