The Florida Legislature approved a $74.5 billion state budget, spring training incentives that could lead to a Palm Beach Gardens stadium and another big elections overhaul before ending the annual session Friday, absent the chaotic, late-night finish that has marked recent years.
House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, had stressed harmony between the two chambers for months. And after some last-week-of-session turbulence, Friday stayed generally even-keeled.
The budget was approved 40-0 by the Senate and 106-11 by the House. Lawmakers adjourned at 7:16 p.m.
But the Miami Dolphins became a late-hour budget casualty. Lawmakers failed to reach agreement on legislation that could have steered tax dollars toward stadium repairs sought by the team.
Most Democrats joined Republicans in voting for the budget, the largest in state history and fattened by lawmakers reveling in their first budget surplus since 2006.
“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not another train,” said Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach.
GOP lawmakers, who control both chambers, were quick to credit their stewardship during the recession for spawning Florida’s recovery.
The budget includes a $1 billion boost for public schools, the first pay raise in seven years for state workers and no new taxes – but a 3 percent tuition hike for college and university students.
Lawmakers also gave Gov. Rick Scott the teacher salary hike and tax cut for manufacturers that he had labeled as his session priorities.
“It’s so much more than spreadsheets and numbers,” Senate Budget Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, told the Senate. “It’s a reflection of our values and priorities.”
In the House, Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said the belt-tightening of the past six years had paid off.
“Because of fiscally sound management and making hard decisions, today we can celebrate a great time of restoration,” Baxley said in debate on the spending plan.
But a cadre of House Democrats refused to endorse the budget.
The Democratic opposition stemmed from the session-long roadblock House Republicans had erected to stop a Senate-backed plan to draw as much as $51 billion in federal Medicaid money over the next decade to bring health coverage to 1.1 million uninsured Floridians.
“The budget is not plugged into the reality that exists outside this chamber,” said Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach.
House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale also voted against the spending plan, saying it favored the “haves” but did little for the “have nots” of Florida – especially those needing health coverage.
“We had an opportunity to do great things,” Thurston told the House.
While the budget is the only bill lawmakers must pass, the end-of-session deadline prodded lawmakers Friday into agreement on a handful of issues that had divided them much of the two-month session.
Legislation aimed at helping cities and counties improve Major League Baseball spring training sites was approved. The move could bring $50 million in state dollars to Palm Beach County to build a two-team stadium in Palm Beach Gardens.
A deal has been in the works to bring the Houston Astros and Toronto Blue Jays to the county. A vacant 82-acre site near Interstate 95 and PGA Boulevard has been eyed for the stadium.
But a separate proposal that could make the Miami Dolphins eligible for a tax break to assist with stadium repairs failed in the session’s closing hours.
Former Dolphin quarterback Dan Marino came to the Capitol this week to lobby in support of the bid.
And Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale even briefly jokingly floated an amendment Friday that would make Weatherford’s brother, Drew, a former Florida State University football player, a backup quarterback for the team.
But lingering concerns about hotel bed-tax dollars going to a lucrative NFL team sunk the idea Friday.
The standoff also erased proposals pitched by Daytona International Speedway, Jacksonville for the stadium used by the NFL Jaguars, and Orange County, which is looking to land a major league soccer franchise.
Similarly, a push by Negron to eliminate a decades-old tax break for the powerful insurance industry collapsed in the session’s homestretch.
Negron wanted to play Robin Hood with the $224 million saved – giving Florida motorists a $12-per-vehicle cut in registration fees next year.
But the House said it was wrong to target insurers – fearing they could take jobs out of state. House leaders countered with their own, modest give-back for drivers – while protecting the industry.
With the two sides refusing to budge, the deadlock means motorists will get nothing.
Republican leaders, however, were quick to declare the session a victory.
Placards were hung Friday afternoon above the marble-lined Rotunda separating the House and Senate chambers. The signs carried the titles of Gaetz and Weatherford’s priorities, and were styled as a checklist.
Scott already signed into law new campaign finance limits and tougher ethics standards – action that came Wednesday night, moments after lawmakers approved his manufacturers’ tax break.
More dollars for schools, including an effort to advance online education, and the new elections law were among other issues the leaders cited.
Another priority — proposed new restrictions on the Florida Retirement System — failed, after unions locked arms to fight the move and the House and Senate divided on how far to go with changes.
Gaetz and Weatherford chalked up the effort to revise the government employee pension system as a loss.
Scott joined the leaders outside the legislative chambers following the session’s end.
“This is a great day for Florida families,” Scott said.
In the budget for Palm Beach County
- Everglades Restoration, $70 million.
- Palm Beach State College Loxahatchee Groves campus, $6.5 million.
- J.W. Corbett State Wildlife Management Area flood berm, $4 million.
- Loxahatchee River initiative, $1.3 million.
- Glades Utility Authority pipeline work, $1 million.
Palm Beach County sheriff’s prevention intervention, $1 million.
Riviera Beach drainage work: West 18-22 Street, $500,000.
- Riviera Beach West 6th Street drainage, $500,000.
- Lake Park drainage, $200,000.
BEACH RESTORATION PROJECTS
- Jupiter Carlin $ 2.5 million
- North Boca Raton $ 790,000
- Ocean Ridge $ 1.1 million
- Inlet Management $2 million
- Singer Island $ 550,000
- Coral Cove $ 150,000
LAKE WORTH LAGOON PROJECTS
- Monastery Artificial Reef, $150,000.
- Lake Park sea grass, $125,000.
- North Palm Beach Living Shoreline, $100,000.
- Monitoring and administration $ 100,000.
- Lake Okeechobee Torry Island master plan, $75,000.
Source: SB 1500, the state budget for 2013-14