FL House and Senate advance competing budget bills for 2020-21

Florida Capitol
The Historic Capitol, foreground, and Florida Capitol buildings. Photo, Colin Hackley

With differences over funding for affordable housing, environmental land purchases, and tourism promotion, the Florida House and Senate on Wednesday advanced separate versions of a $91 billion-plus state budget for 2020-21.

The two chambers are expected to vote out final versions of their budget bills on Thursday, triggering the process through which Senate and House negotiators will settle the differences before the 2020 Legislature’s scheduled end on March 13.

In general, the budgets from the Republican-led House and Senate are in line with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ $91.4 billion budget proposal for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Here are some the key differences between the Senate’s $92.8 billion budget bill (SB 2500) and the House’s $91.4 billion budget proposal (HB 5001):

–The Senate wants $125 million for the Florida Forever land-buying program, which received $33 million this year. The House wants $20 million. DeSantis asked for $100 million for the program.

–The Senate and DeSantis back $387 million in affordable housing programs. The House has $147 million in its budget, shifting $240 million in housing trust funds to other areas in the budget.

–The House has $650 million in its budget as part of an effort to raise the average starting salaries for teachers in the state to $47,500, as requested by DeSantis. The Senate has a $500 million teacher pay package.

–The Senate has a 3 percent across-the-board pay raise for state workers. The House wants to increase state worker pay by $1,800 per year for workers making less than $50,000. Both budgets have additional targeted pay raises, including increases for correctional officers and other prison staff members.

–The Senate wants to continue $50 million for Visit Florida, the state agency that promotes tourism. The House wants to end funding for the program.

Here are some key areas of agreement:

–The House and Senate plan to spend more than the $625 million that DeSantis requested for the clean up of the Everglades and other environmental projects.

–Tuition at state universities and colleges would not increase under either the House or Senate budget bills. Both boost funding for the Bright Futures scholarship program to $652 million, accommodating an estimated increase of 5,000 scholarships in the next school year.

–Both budgets includes a healthy state reserve fund. The House wants to hold $3.7 billion in reserve, with the Senate at $3.5 billion.

Once the final budget bill is passed, DeSantis will review the spending plan and exercise his ability to reject some of the spending through his veto power. Last year, DeSantis vetoed a little more than $131 million in the current 2019-20 state budget.