Florida lawmakers will extend their annual session for several days to pass a new $87 billion-plus state budget, which will include a $101.50 increase in per-student funding in public schools.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, announced early Wednesday afternoon that legislative leaders had reached agreement on the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. One of the last issues to be resolved was funding for hospitals and nursing homes.
His announcement came after House and Senate negotiators failed to finalize a budget before a Tuesday deadline, forcing an extension of the 60-day legislative session, which had been scheduled to end Friday.
“We do believe that as of right now we have agreement on the budget,” Corcoran told the House, drawing applause from the members.
But Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said they have not worked out the timing of the session extension, which will likely mean a final vote on the annual appropriations bill Sunday afternoon or Monday.
The budget bill must be published, and then lawmakers must wait 72 hours before the final vote under a constitutionally mandated “cooling off” period.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said the last major issue settled was a deal securing $40 million in state funds, which can be matched with $60 million in federal funding, for nursing homes.
“It was very important to us in the Senate,” Bradley said. “We have a $100 million to help our elderly, our frail, vulnerable citizens who are in our nursing homes.”
Lawmakers also settled a dispute over a funding formula distributing Medicaid payments to Florida hospitals.
“I tell you I’ve spent the last 36 hours watching a lot of heavily lobbied special interests fight like hyenas over a static amount of money,” Bradley said. “At the end of the day, what is important to us is creating new money to help vulnerable Floridians rather than worrying about how these special interests work out their fights among themselves.”
Although the specific details had not been released early Wednesday evening, Bradley cited a number of accomplishments in the new budget, including $100 million for the Florida Forever environmental land-buying program and $400 million for a school-safety initiative, which will provide more mental health services and security officers for schools.
He said the budget will include a tax-cut package, which is expected to be in the range of $80 million, and will include more than $50 million to address the opioid crisis.
Although state workers will not receive a general pay raise, the budget includes pay hikes for state law enforcement officers, assistant state attorneys, state firefighters, assistant public defenders and probation and detention officers in the Department of Juvenile Justice, Bradley said.
He said there would be “record” funding for the state university system and public schools. The $21 billion public school budget will include a per-student funding increase of $101.50, Bradley said.
The budget includes a permanent expansion of Bright Futures scholarships for students at universities and state colleges, including allowing the merit aid to be used to attend summer classes.
However, without the appropriations bill actually being published, the budget deal technically remained “open” for adjustments on Wednesday, with some lawmakers speculating that it was being used as leverage to sway some reluctant House members as they debated a contentious school-safety bill (SB 7026). The House passed the bill 67-49 early Wednesday evening.
“In my opinion, it’s because they are wrangling votes over there” in the House, Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, said about the delay on finalizing the budget.
Bradley said he could not speculate on the House, while saying “there were no carrots or sticks with regards to the budget” in the Senate debate over the school-safety bill, which passed in a 20-18 vote earlier in the week. He said the budget delay was caused by differences over the health-care spending.
Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, a former budget chairman and Senate president, said he believed there were real budget differences between the two chambers “but maybe they weren’t working on it very hard —- they weren’t in a big rush.”
He said using spending initiatives in the annual budget bill to motivate individual members is “a real management tool.”
“They’ve used every tool that I have ever seen used in this building to try to whip the votes for this (school-safety) bill,” Lee said.