State Politics

House, Senate budgets differ in key areas but agree with DeSantis on water quality

Gov. Ron DeSantis discusses red tide

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, two days into office, discusses executive orders he signed to address the red tide issues impacting the state.
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, two days into office, discusses executive orders he signed to address the red tide issues impacting the state.

Lawmakers in the Florida House and Senate proposed record spending in budgets passed this week, but less than what Gov. Ron DeSantis wanted.

And the damage isn’t done yet.

Both chambers enter the second half of the legislative session divided by $400 million and they’re worlds apart on a few key issues.

Education. Affordable housing. Healthcare. Over the next 30 days, lawmakers will hash out how to spend money on those issues and others.

A key obstacle: Hurricane Michael, which appears likely to cost the state close to $2 billion.

“This is one of the more difficult budget years I’ve ever experienced,” said Senate President Bill Galvano, whose chamber proposed a $90.3 billion spending plan for the next fiscal year.

House Speaker José Oliva’s chamber wants to spend $89.9 billion. DeSantis pitched a $91.3 billion budget.

The two chambers alone are about $520 million apart on K-12 education, with the Senate wanting a bigger bump to K-12 funding than has been seen in years. For the flexible money districts can use for salaries and operations, the Senate is pushing for a $149 per-student increase, while the House has been more conservative, advocating for a $38 per-pupil hike.

Last year, because of millions in education funding being directed to post-Parkland school safety directives, the funding to districts’ flexible spending pot increased by only 47 cents per student.

It outraged school superintendents who demanded the Legislature reconvene and set aside more funds.

This year, lawmakers, especially in the Senate, have openly acknowledged that the 47-cent increase was a major concern for schools.

Medicaid funding

Lawmakers also have to figure out how to reimburse hospitals for Medicaid care.

The House wants slight trims across the board to inpatient and outpatient care. The Senate wants to remove $318 million given to about two dozen hospitals that have the highest share of Medicaid patients and spread it around to all hospitals operating in Florida.

Most hospitals would get a little more money, though “safety net” hospitals that include large public and teaching hospitals say some facilities would see tens of millions of dollars in cuts.

University and college funding is another sharp point of disagreement this year, which likely stems from the leadership’s disparate views.

Oliva has spoken about “great excesses” and an “endless appetite of new construction” by colleges and universities, which he compared to the healthcare industry in how it forces people into debt.

The House has proposed a whopping 2.5 percent reduction in the beginning base budget for universities, with a $20 million reduction alone in spending for “pre-eminent” universities that exceed certain standards in research and graduation rates, which includes Florida State University, the University of Florida and the University of South Florida.

It also includes a $10 million cut to the World Class Scholars program aimed at recruiting top-tier professors.

The Senate proposed a 1.4 percent increase in the beginning base budget for universities. Galvano has made the university pre-eminence program and the World Class Scholars centerpiece issues of his legislative career.

Affordable housing remains another major difference.

The Senate wants to spend all $332 million in the state’s affordable housing trust fund on low-interest loans for builders of affordable housing and other programs. About a third of that would go to Panhandle areas devastated by Hurricane Michael.

But the House wants to spend about $123 million on Panhandle housing — and use the rest of the trust fund money on projects that have nothing to do with affordable homes.

Agreement on cleaner water

The big win for DeSantis so far? Funding for the environment, a campaign priority that he pushed onto lawmakers.

The governor wanted $625 million for such projects, a quarter of a $2.5 billion promise he made to spend on water quality over the next four years — and a $1 billion increase from past spending.

Lawmakers seem to have made good on it so far.

The Senate’s proposals for water quality improvements and Everglades restoration round out to about $656 million, which is what Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley calls a “real commitment” to water quality.

The House is proposing $660 million for water and Everglades issues, which includes $127 million specifically for Everglades restoration and $100 million to restore Florida’s springs.

DeSantis has already praised them.

“A lot of people said, ‘Well, that’s great the governor is really taking the lead on this but man, the Legislature, that’s a lot different than their comfort zone,’ ” DeSantis said Tuesday. “In both houses, their budget basically met the challenge.”

Information from the News Service of Florida was used in this report.

Gov. Ron DeSantis asked Florida legislators to "be bold" to achieve excellence and give Floridians what they deserve, during his State of the State address on March 5, 2019.

Elizabeth Koh is a state government reporter in the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times’ Tallahassee bureau, where she covers health care politics and policy (and the occasional hurricane). A Brown University graduate, she has also covered local politics for the Washington Post and national politics for the Dallas Morning News’ D.C. bureau.
Samantha J. Gross is a politics and policy reporter for the Miami Herald. Before she moved to the Sunshine State, she covered breaking news at the Boston Globe and the Dallas Morning News.