Over the weekend the Legislature stayed very busy constructing the Florida budget. The budget conference began on Saturday and continued through Sunday. A lot of progress was made over the weekend, and conference committees will continue to meet until all budget issues are resolved, or “bumped” to the Appropriations Conference Committee At Large. The Legislature made a lot of progress over the weekend, so to catch you up we have prepared a summary of a few of the major events that took place.
The Education Budget Conference Committee has reached an agreement with education spending and has bumped their unresolved items up to the full Joint Appropriations Committee. On Saturday, the House made the initial offer to the Senate, increasing their funding to the Senate’s figures to provide more state funding, while reliving the burden on local property taxes. Total education funding will be $21.7 billion with PreK-12 public schools receiving $14.46 billion, adding an additional $385 million more than the current year. The additional funding will reduce the property tax portion from over $9 billion to $8.8 billion. The Senate agreed to the House offer on Sunday. Vice Chair Senator Don Gaetz then proposed a contingency plan in which he would agree to a long list of House positions in exchange for the House agreeing to a long list of Senate positions. The House returned later and rejected the ultimatum, but introduced a counter offer on the line-items and budget language. The counter offer was rejected by Vice Chair Gaetz, so the open issues are being bumped to Budget Chairs Tom Lee and Richard Corcoran.
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Transportation and Economic Development
The Transportation and Economic Development conference committee met on Saturday, with most of the discussion being over the decision not to fund the Enterprise Florida incentive program. The decision of Chairs Lee and Corcoran angered TED Conference Committee Vice Chair Senator Jack Latvala, who described the decision as insulting and demeaning. The committee met again on Sunday and the chambers were only $8 million apart on overall funding after the House made its second offer on February 28th. One issue is funding for affordable housing programs. The Senate wants to make over $200 million in funding available for those programs, which includes the State Housing Initiatives Partnership program (SHIP). The House, which originally would have given SHIP and other affordable housing programs $127.4 million in total, moved to the Senate’s position. The Senate budget proposal also contains a $6 million appropriation for Visit Florida to market films and other entertainment produced in Florida that didn’t make it into the House offer. Overall, Visit Florida would get $47 million above its current base budget in the House offer. In the Senate’s last offer, it would have only received $24 million, which would give it the same funding level it had in the last fiscal year. Later Sunday night, the Senate agreed too many of the House proposals, but the committee could not come to an agreement on several major issues, including money for important public-private partnerships Visit Florida and Space Florida. Today they House made a new offer on funding for projects and programs in the Department of Economic Opportunity. The Senate is currently reviewing the offer, and the committee is expected to meet this evening to receive the Senate’s response. It is expected that the chambers will pass funding levels for visit Florida and Space Florida. The Senate wanted an additional $6 million for Visit Florida’s budget that has to be used for marketing Florida for films and other entertainment projects. The House is willing to add the $6 million but does not want constrain the purpose of the money. The conference committee will likely meet one more time this evening before sending outstanding issues to the Conference Committee At Large.
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Health and Human Services
The House and Senate made great progress on the $34.1 billion health care portion of the budget Saturday evening. The House offered $26.49 billion for the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), the agency that runs Florida’s Medicaid program. That’s an increase of more than $321 million over its initial budget proposal. The Senate budget has $26.54 billion for the agency, about $50 million more than House offer. The Department of Children and Families would get about $10 million more under the House offer at $3.076 billion, with differences from the senate being funding for various mental health and substance abuse programs. The House offered $309 million for The Department of Elder Affairs which is about $8 million more than the Senate, $2.885 billion for the Department of Health which is about $4 million more than the Senate, and $105.6 million for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs which is aligned with the Senate. Saturday evening, the Senate countered the House offer by bringing the AHCA budget total down about $16 million to $26.52 billion. The Senate offered $1.243 billion for the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, more than $1 million higher than the first House offer. The chambers were $4 million apart for the Department of Children and Families, $3 million apart from House on the Department of Elder Affairs, and $7 million apart for the Department of Health. The HHS Conference Committee met again today to work out the difference. Throughout the meeting the chambers traded a series of budget offers leaving them about $40 million apart. The chambers are also apart on some public health initiatives as well as local capital outlay projects. Low Income Pool (LIP) and Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH), programs for hospitals that care for the poor and uninsured, have not yet been discussed, however the issue is expected to be taken up in the next HHS Conference meeting. The remaining differences will have to be worked out in their next meeting, or be bumped to the full appropriation chairs.
The conference committees will continue to make as many agreements as they can. Any remaining budget items that committees cannot find common ground on will be bumped to the Appropriations Committee At Large, where Chairmen Tom Lee and Richard Corcoran will have the final say on remaining budget issues. We will continue to update you as the budget conference continues.