Senate rolls out $92.83 billion budget plan
By Jim Turner
News Service of Florida
The Florida Senate released an initial $92.83 billion budget proposal last Thursday that would provide across-the-board pay raises for state employees, increase money for teacher salaries and help fund water-quality projects.
The Senate proposal for the fiscal year that starts July 1 would be about a 2 percent increase over the current year’s budget. Also, it exceeds a $91.4 billion budget proposal that Gov. Ron DeSantis released in November.
Much of the Senate package had been unveiled in subcommittees earlier in the week, such as providing $500 million to increase teacher pay and earmarking $643.6 million for water quality and protection. That slightly exceeded DeSantis’ proposal to spend $625 million for Everglades restoration and other water projects.
DeSantis proposed spending $602 million to set minimum teacher salaries at $47,500. The Senate would use a large chunk of its proposed $500 million to move toward that minimum-salary goal, while also providing money to boost pay of veteran teachers.
“These significant increases allow us to reach Gov. DeSantis’ goal of increasing the minimum classroom teacher salary over the next few years, while also providing opportunities for districts to invest in veteran teachers and the many other members of school district personnel who have such a tremendous impact on our children’s education,” Senate Appropriations Chairman Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said in a prepared statement.
The plan is a first step as Senate and House negotiators prepare to hammer out a final budget before the annual legislative session is scheduled to end March 13. A full House proposal had not been posted as of last Thursday afternoon, though House subcommittees released many details earlier in the week.
A major difference between the Senate plan and DeSantis’ proposal is that the Senate would provide a 3 percent pay raise to state employees, while also setting aside additional money for correctional officers. DeSantis has proposed additional money for correctional officers but not for rank-and-file state employees.
“We also include a meaningful investment in across-the-board salary increases for our hard-working state employees, as well as forward-looking investments in infrastructure that are critical to future security and economic growth,” Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said in a statement.
AFSCME Florida, a union that represents state workers, has tried to press lawmakers for raises, including holding rallies last week. It praised the Senate budget proposal.
“We are thrilled that the hard work of our dedicated state employees is being recognized in the Senate budget,” AFSCME Florida President Vicki Hall said in a statement. “Our members raised their voices to remind our legislators who it is makes this state tick, and those voices have been heard.”
The Senate proposal would fully fund increases in state-employee health insurance costs and fully fund affordable-housing programs at $387 million. Also, the Senate said the budget includes such things as a $368.5 million increase in the Department of Transportation’s work program and would not increase tuition in state colleges and universities.
The Senate noted in a news release that its spending plan is based on January general-revenue estimates from state economists. Those estimates were not available when DeSantis rolled out his budget plan in November. On Jan. 14, the economists boosted the estimate of revenues by about $400 million over two years.
The Senate Appropriations Committee was slated to take up the spending plan Wednesday and could make changes. The full Senate then would consider the plan the next week.