TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Senate passed a $71.2 billion budget bill Thursday to set the stage for negotiations on differences with the House during the final two weeks of this year’s regular legislative session.
The Senate spending plan
(SB 2000) is $2 billion higher than the appropriations bill (HB 5001) previously passed by the House.
The bipartisan vote was 33-6 with two Republicans and four Democrats. The budget would go into effect July 1.
Both Republican-controlled chambers restore $1 billion in spending cuts made to public
schools in recent years, an increase requested by Gov. Rick Scott, but that some opponents say still falls short of what’s needed.
They also objected to additional spending cuts for universities and health and social services while providing money for some lawmakers’ local projects such as a historic log cabin and the Bay of Pigs Museum in South Florida and a regatta center in Sarasota.
Senate Budget Chairman JD Alexander said it’s the best his panel could do in the face of expenses that continue to grow faster than revenues in a recovering but still-weak economy.
“We’re facing a roughly
$1.4 billion shortfall from our means to our needs,” the Lake Wales Republican said. “We’ve worked hard. We have debated how to find the savings that we need to live within our means.”
Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston said the spending increase for public schools would still leave them with $904 less per student than they had in 2005.
“The K-12 education funding in the Senate’s budget proposal along with severe budget cuts for our State University System, some health care cuts and social services cuts are a pattern, a pattern of taking the knife to things that government should be providing,” Rich said.
She said lawmakers ignored the option of increased revenues by closing what she said is a loophole that lets some corporations avoid paying their fair share of taxes.
“This Legislature can find the will to dip into the universities’ reserve funds to plug gaps its own policies have created, but it’s unwilling to ask big corporations to step up to their responsibilities to pay for roads, services and safe neighborhoods — all services they use,” Rich said.
Alexander said that’s a legitimate point of view.
“Unfortunately, it seems highly unlikely that we could be successful even within this body much less the other body given the elected mandates many of us received when we came here to be able to expand those revenues,” he said.
The Senate budget would
cut university spending by
$400 million, or about 5 percent, compared to only $138 million in the House’s bill.
The House budget includes an 8 percent tuition increase for students at Florida’s 11 public universities and 28 state and community colleges. The Senate has only a 3 percent tuition increase for colleges and none for universities, but it anticipates the Board of Governors will approve increases of 15 percent for all or most universities. That’s the maximum the board can approve on its own.
The two chambers are closer on public school funding. The Senate bill would increase spending $193 per student, or 3.1 percent, to $6,417.62. That’s $52 more than the House.
The bottom lines differ in part because the Senate budget has more spending for road-building and other transportation projects. The Senate also has pulled local court clerks into its budget but the House has not.
Democrats who joined Rich in voting against the budget are Sens. Maria Sachs of Boca Raton, Chris Smith or Fort Lauderdale and Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood. The Republicans who voted against it are Sens. Paula Dockery of Lakeland and Steve Oelrich of Cross Creek.