Ready, set, go. Lawmakers start nitty gritty state budget talks

FL Legislature Budget chairmen Travis Cummings (left) and Rob Bradley talk to reporters about state 2019 budget negotiations. LLoyd Dunkelberger photo.

Florida lawmakers began formal negotiations on a new state budget on Tuesday, with legislative leaders saying they are moving toward agreement on a plan to provide money for affordable housing around the state.

Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, and House Speaker Jose Oliva, a Miami-Dade County Republican, briefly addressed the House and Senate members who will negotiate the details of a new $90 billion state budget over the next week.

“It’s been a great process so far…. It’s good to see that at least we’re on track to finish on time,” Oliva told a meeting room crowded with lawmakers, lobbyists and other onlookers.

Lawmakers are scheduled to end their annual session on May 3. They must have a budget agreement in place by next Tuesday to meet that deadline.

House and Senate leaders have agreed on overall spending levels for the 2019-20 budget, but details are scant on how that will play out in terms of funding for schools, roads, health care, prisons and other state priorities. It will become clearer in the next few days as the so-called conference process is used to work out the specific appropriations.

But House Appropriations Chairman Rep. Travis Cummings, a Clay County Republican, says that the House has backed off its original plan to shift $200 million out of the state affordable housing program to use for other state programs. The House plan had left $124 million for affordable housing, but it was all slated for areas impacted by recent hurricanes.

The Senate wants to spend $332 million on affordable housing, with $100 million dedicated to hurricane-impacted areas. Gov. Ron DeSantis is also calling for full funding for the affordable housing program.

Cummings says lawmakers have found a middle ground, although the details are not yet available.

“We came up in our position in respect of our Senate partners and they came down,” Cumming said.

He predicts the final budget deal will provide more “additional dollars for affordable housing than the House budget initially had.”

Senate Appropriations Chairman Sen. Rob Bradley, a Clay County Republican, says the housing funding as well as spending on other state priorities will be worked out in the next week.

“This is the first step in a long, long process. I know you have questions about details. That’s why we have conference (process),” he said.

Here is some background on Florida’s affordable housing needs and the Legislature’s propensity to raid the program’s funding for other state initiatives.

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