Florida legislators draw up rival spending plans
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Republicans in charge of the Florida House and Senate have drawn up rival spending plans that differ on everything from money for schools to spending on incentives to lure businesses to the state.
The Florida House and Florida Senate on Friday released their official budget proposals for the coming year.
Legislators have until March to reconcile their rival spending plans and pass a budget that covers spending from July 2016 to June 2017. Last year a clash between the House and Senate over health care spending resulted in a stalemate that wasn't resolved until the middle of summer.
Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli insist they will get their work done on time this year.
Here are a few highlights of the two budgets as they are currently proposed:
The House budget is nearly $80 billion, while the Senate spending plan is about $1 billion more. Both budget proposals are higher than Gov. Rick Scott proposed.
The Senate has proposed raising school spending 2 percent more than this year, or nearly $142 more for each student. The House proposal would increase student spending by 1.75 percent, or about $124 more. Both school funding proposals, however, rely on increased local property taxes. The House has $45 million for a controversial teacher bonus program opposed by Florida's teacher union, but the Senate budget does not include the funding.
Scott has made a tax cut package one of his main priorities this session. The House has rolled out a tax cut package that would total nearly $1 billion. The cuts would not kick in right away but instead would take effect over a 2˝ year period. The Senate has yet to offer up its own tax cut package. But top senators have suggested they may roll back property taxes instead of endorsing some of the business-oriented tax cuts proposed by the House.
The House and Senate budgets currently do not include any across-the-board pay raises for state employees. But the budgets do include targeted pay raises for specific employees such as state firefighters. Scott vetoed a similar budget request last year. The Senate has proposed raises for employees who work in Florida's prisons. Gardiner has said the Legislature may still consider setting a pay raise for all state workers.
Another top priority for Scott is the creation of a $250 million fund that he can use to recruit businesses to move to Florida. The Senate has included the money in its proposed budget, but the House has not.
The Legislature is not considering Medicaid expansion again this year. But the Senate is still proposing spending more on health care than the House. Some of the differences include how much money should be set aside for hospitals as well as providing money to pay for health coverage of immigrant children who are in the country legally.
The House and Senate have set aside different amounts for Everglades restoration and money to help restore Florida's troubled freshwater springs.