Heads up: the Legislature is about to start work on your new state budget

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

It will be a mad dash for the cash as Florida lawmakers put together a new state budget.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, a Clay County Republican, says lawmakers are not expected to begin their formal negotiations on the $90 billion-plus budget until after the upcoming Passover-Easter weekend break. Those negotiations could start as late as April 23, giving the Legislature exactly a week to cut a budget deal.

The timeline is dictated by the constitutional requirement that if lawmakers agree on a budget, they must wait 72 hours before the final vote. That means the budget deal must be struck sometime on Tuesday, April 30 for lawmakers to achieve their scheduled session end on May 3.

But despite the abbreviated time frame, it appears the elements are there for lawmakers to achieve a smooth ending.

Yes, there are significant differences in the budget bills. The Senate has a $90.3 billion spending plan for the 2019-20 budget year, which begins July 1. The House has an $89.9 billion plan. And Gov. Ron DeSantis has outlined a $91.3 billion proposal.

The Senate wants an increase of $350 in per-student funding in the public schools, versus the House plan for a more modest $168.

But those differences can be worked out. And the negotiations are being aided this year by the cordial relationship that DeSantis, a former congressman and first-year Republican governor, has with the Republican legislative leaders.

“Having been a legislator, he understands the legislative process, understands how that works,” said House Speaker Jose Oliva, a Miami-Dade County Republican. “He hasn’t been impatient about the fact that a lot of the work gets done near the end.”

Oliva says DeSantis has also helped the process by communicating clearly with lawmakers about his priorities.

“I think all in all, he’s done a fantastic job of, one, understanding the process. And, two, being clear about what’s important to him,” Oliva said.

As a result, lawmakers are poised to approve more than $600 million for DeSantis’ environmental initiative that is aimed at addressing issues such as the outbreak of red tide and toxic algae, the protection of natural springs and septic tank runoff.

Lawmakers are also likely to approve some version of DeSantis’ plan to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada, although that proposal is subject to approval by the federal government.

Another indicator for a soft landing for the 2019 Legislature is the fact that the major priorities for Oliva, the House leader, and Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, are on course for approval.

Oliva is pushing a series of health-care reforms, including making it easier for hospitals and other medical facilities to open. Galvano wants to advance three major toll-road projects in largely rural areas of the state.


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