The Florida House on Thursday passed its $89.9 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins in July, setting the stage for negotiations to begin with the Senate on a final state spending plan.
The vote was 105-8 for the Republican-crafted plan, with the handful of no votes coming from Democrats. The GOP-led Senate unanimously passed its $90.3 billion version Wednesday. Both legislative blueprints are below the $91.3 billion budget recommended by Gov. Ron DeSantis, also a Republican.
Budget negotiations now will consume much of the remaining weeks of the annual legislative session, which is scheduled to end in May. Funding for education, health care, higher education reforms, the environment, school safety and student mental health services, affordable housing and Hurricane Michael recovery are among the major topics of discussion.
House Speaker Jose Oliva said after the vote there are many differences to bridge among lawmakers and interest groups on these and other topics in the days ahead. A state budget is the only bill lawmakers are required to pass during the session.
“You have to bring people together to come to a general agreement and hopefully to get most of what everyone wants, but it’s impossible to get everything everyone wants,” said Oliva, a Miami Lakes Republican. “Our toughest time is still ahead of us.”
Although most House Democrats voted for the budget to keep the process moving, many took the floor to raise concerns that spending levels were far too low. In public K-12 education, for example, the House GOP-led plan would spend about $579.3 million more per student than under current law, while the Senate budget contains a $1.1 billion increase. And there are no general salary raises for teachers.
“We are definitely not funding education to the level it needs to be done,” said Rep. Susan Valdes, a Tampa Democrat. “It is important that we take our children’s education to the utmost level of importance.”
The House Appropriations Committee chairman, GOP Rep. Travis Cummings of Orange Park, said the spending plan will remain a work in progress but sought to highlight it as a “sensible and responsible budget.” One such area, he said, is a projected reserve fund of about $3.3 billion that keeps the state’s financial outlook healthy.
“You will see there are a lot of essential needs that are covered in this budget,” Cummings said.