This week, the Legislature passed the largest budget in state history with little in the way of opposition.
The Senate passed the $112.1 billion budget with no votes cast against it even as six members did not vote. Over in the House, the budget passed on a 105-3 vote with only state Reps. Michael Greico, D-Miami Beach, Dotie Joseph, D-North Miami, and Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, voting against it. Last year’s budget stood at $101.5 billion.
Included in the budget were pay increases for state employees, including ensuring the minimum wage starts at $15 an hour, giving all state workers a 5.4 percent pay raise, having new teachers start at $47,500 and new law enforcement officers start at $50,000.
State House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, celebrated the budget as a win for the Sunshine State.
“The $112.1 billion budget includes record budgeted reserves of $8.9 billion, which is 22.8 percent of the general revenue estimate. While bolstering our savings, this budget builds on last year’s vision to prepare Florida for tomorrow with $170 billion to improve our cybersecurity infrastructure, $297 million for state park improvements and $2.3 billion for Everglades restoration and protection of Florida’s water resources,” the speaker’s office noted. “This budget also demonstrates the Florida Legislature’s strong commitment to families with $363 million for affordable housing programs, $74 million to address the fatherhood crisis and the most ever per-pupil funding for K-12 education with $8,142.85 per student.”
“Working together with our partners in the Senate, we were able to craft a budget that funds immediate needs and also prepares Florida today for long-term success by directing state dollars in a strategic, intentional way,” said Sprowls. “We’ve made new, historic investments in our people, including valued law enforcement, corrections officers and teachers, and we’ve restored purchasing power to our state workforce amid a national inflation crisis. We provide unprecedented levels of budgeted reserves, make record investments in education with the highest per pupil funding in Florida’s history and fund an overhaul of our cybersecurity infrastructure to protect our state and local governments for years to come. From water quality to affordable housing, health care, higher education and beyond, the Florida House is committed to making wise investments in a balanced budget with the promise of an even better tomorrow.”
Sprowls also pointed to tax relief included in the budget, including expanding the annual sales tax holidays for back to school and disaster readiness shopping from 10 to 14 days.
“The savings in this tax package for Floridians are immense. We expand sales tax holidays, like Freedom Week, Hurricane Preparedness, and Back-to-School Holidays while also focusing tax relief on much-needed everday items like diapers, tools, energy-efficient appliances, and pet supplies to make sure more money stays in people’s pockets,” said Sprowls. “And as a continuation of our ongoing effort to introduce every child in Florida to the magic of reading, children’s books will be tax free for three months to encourage summer reading. There is truly something in this tax package for everyone, and I look forward to it becoming law.”
State Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Tribly, praised the budget when a final deal was hammered out on it last week.
“Florida has a job for everyone who wants one, and we remain the envy of the nation as a beacon of freedom. Our budget leverages these successes to focus not only on the critical needs of the day, but also to strategically plan for the future,” Simpson said. “This budget invests in the workers who serve our state and her people. We are investing $1 billion to ensure Floridians who work for, or contract with, the state, and spend each day educating, protecting and caring for others in our communities earn at least $15 per hour. Businesses are having to implement the $15 per hour wage in the midst of the highest inflation in a generation, so I think it’s only appropriate that state government do the same. This budget also gives every state employee a 5.38 percent raise to account for inflation. On top of that, we looked at areas where we have traditionally had problems with recruiting and retaining employees, and funded additional raises for law enforcement, fire fighters, and others. We also fund raises for teachers and ensure that every single employee in the school system, from the cafeteria workers to the bus drivers, is making at least $15 per hour.
“This budget makes good on our commitment to improving Florida’s Child Welfare System by enhancing benefits for caregivers who are relatives and increasing the child care subsidy for foster families. Ensuring Florida children have every opportunity to build successful lives begins with loving, permanent homes, which is the least we can do for some of our most vulnerable Floridians,” Simpson added. “We build on the efforts that began last year to infuse a steady stream of funds into affordable housing programs, wastewater projects, including septic-to-sewer conversions, and to mitigate sea-level rise. We provide more than $300 million for affordable housing, with $100 million to focus on down payment assistance for our hometown heroes – teachers, health care workers, law enforcement, and others.
“With a limited time to both appropriate and spend federal pandemic funding, we have worked to use these unanticipated funds in areas that will bolster our economy in the short term, while making tremendous infrastructure improvements that have a long-term benefit. We used these federal funds to augment our state commitment to environmental restoration and clean water resources with key investments in northern storage ASR wells, preservation and expansion of Florida’s iconic wildlife corridor and mitigating sea-level rise. We know that investing in infrastructure leads to job creation that further bolsters our strong and growing economy. This is a budget that will serve our state for generations to come,” Simpson added.
Even as they lined up to vote for the budget, Democrats expressed some dissatisfaction with it.
“Florida’s budget is our state’s value statement, and while this budget spends a record amount of money, Tallahassee Republicans failed to address the real struggles everyday Floridians are facing,” insisted state Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami.”Florida has quickly become one the most unaffordable states to live in the country. We have an affordable housing crisis, skyrocketing property insurance rates, and a crumbling infrastructure. We had a chance to invest in critical infrastructure, widening and fixing our roads, expanding our ports, modernizing our schools – and to use the extra COVID money from President Biden to make healthcare finally affordable for millions of hardworking Floridians, and to provide meaningful and direct relief to Floridians.
“Instead, Governor DeSantis and his minions in the legislature engaged in culture wars, focused not on making hard times better for Floridians, but instead on Republican primary voters who live in Iowa and New Hampshire – going so far as to make it illegal for undocumented refugees fleeing the terror of communism and socialism, or even the wars of Ukraine to come to Florida. And through it all, they did protect one winner: Vladimir Putin, by rejecting efforts to withdraw Florida’s pension investments in Russian owned companies,” Taddeo added. “This session was a generational opportunity for real change in Florida, to focus not only on meeting the needs of today for families who are struggling, but to set up Florida to be a global economic leader for generations to come. Instead, this Legislature fiddled at the knee of a governor whose eyes are solely focused on winning Republican primary voters for the presidency, all while making hard times harder for the families who need help the most.”
State Rep. Michele Rayner, D-St. Petersburg, noted that the budget relied on almost $3.5 billion in federal funds.
“My colleagues and I spent the last few months pushing for people-centered policies. I’m ecstatic to see some of these policies prioritized in the budget,” said Rayner. “I’m grateful for the time and debate that members put into forming this budget and I’m especially grateful to President Joe Biden and the Biden-Harris administration for the federal relief funds which helped families across Florida.”
Sabatini explained why he voted against the budget.
“Last year’s budget was $101.5 billion—that’s a 10.4 percent spending increase in one year! Governor DeSantis should veto the hell out of this corrupt, lobbyist-written budget—which is full of special interest garbage,” Sabatini insisted.
DeSantis signaled support for most of the budget, praising it after it was passed on Monday.
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