House passes $113B budget, sets stage for Senate talks

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'Even though you saw that unanimous vote it doesn’t mean the Florida House Democrats agree with every element of that budget.'

The House has passed a $113 billion spending plan with more funding for schools and health care providers, but also containing key differences with the alternative budget passed by the Senate.

“The House budget allocates funds to fortify our state, address long-term infrastructure needs, invest in Florida’s workforce, transform how we deliver public education, and more,” said House Speaker Paul Renner, a Palm Coast Republican.

The legislation (HB 5001, SB 2500) passed unanimously, but Democrats noted specific areas they either opposed outright or had concerns about, including a program to move undocumented migrants around the country, an overhaul of the main funding formula for K-12 schools, and money to expand the powers of the Florida State Guard.

“Even though you saw that unanimous vote, it doesn’t mean the Florida House Democrats agree with every element of that budget,” House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell of Tampa told reporters after the vote.

The budget includes $21 billion for K-12 schools, or $8,707 per student, about a $459 increase on the current year. But the House plan also allows school districts more flexibility in how they spend certain funds.

There’s about $2 billion that would otherwise be dedicated to specific spending — on instructional materials, mental health services, reading instruction, school security and teacher salary increases — that would be included instead as part of the base funding for school districts.

The new formula also includes students who receive a voucher to go to a private school, a program lawmakers expanded to offer to all students in the state in HB 1, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed last month. Democrats opposed the law and are skeptical of including funding for the program with funding for public schools.

“My concern with the vouchers is we are not measuring, we are not keeping track of the students, we are not making sure they’re getting a good quality education,” said Rep. Bruce Antone, an Orlando Democrat.

The new funding formula isn’t included in the Senate version of the budget and will have to be resolved in formal budget talks between the chambers. Other major differences include the House’s 6% increase in state worker salaries versus the Senate’s 3%, as well as the House’s plan to boost pension benefits by $3 billion.

Renner and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo must first agree to top-line spending in each area of the budget before talks can begin. Lawmakers have until May 2 to reach an agreement on a final budget to meet the 72-hour “cooling off” period before they can vote on the measure to end the 60-day Regular Session by the scheduled end date of May 5.