House, Senate start state budget debate with big differences to resolve
As the 2016 session reached the midway point Wednesday, the Senate and House tentatively approved separate budgets in advance of floor votes Thursday and the start of marathon budget negotiations by next week.
One major difference between the chambers is that the Senate includes Gov. Rick Scott’s priority of a three-year, $250 million incentive fund to attract jobs, and the House does not. Scott has been pushing for the money for months, by soliciting support from local officials and blitzing lawmakers with emails through Enterprise Florida.
“We don’t have additional funding for new incentives in this budget,” State Rep. Clay Ingram, R-Pensacola, said.
Ingram said House is “working diligently” with the governor’s office on ways to reform how the program is structured. He said they haven’t worked that out yet, but said there is “plenty of time left in the process.”
Senators spent more than two hours discussing their spending plan Wednesday. Most questions focused on eliminating more than 500 vacant jobs in the Department of Health, why the Senate is not providing money to hire more than 273 new correctional officers, and a proposed ranking system for dozens of groups that share about $30 million a year for after-school and mentoring programs.
In the House, it took almost 5 hours to get through the first day of the budget debate. Almost two hours of that time was focused on the health care budget, spurred largely by a Republican proposal to bar state funding from directly or indirectly going to Planned Parenthood. Democrats repeatedly objected to the language and unsuccessfully tried to strip the language from the budget. Republicans greatly outnumber Democrats in the House. Along mostly party lines, the effort to kill the language died on a 36 to 72 vote. The Senate's spending plan does not include the Planned Parenthood language.
The Senate’s $81 billion budget is about $1 billion higher than the House’s, and Gov. Rick Scott proposed a spending plan of $79.3 billion. The House plan is $79.9 billion.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said final budget decisions can’t be made until senators decide how big a package of tax cuts to support, because that will determine how much money they have to spend.
“So much relies on where we land on the subject of tax cuts,” Lee said.
The House has already rolled out a nearly $1 billion tax cut package, but it is vastly different from the $1 billion tax cut plan Scott has publicly sought from the Legislature. The House plan does not include the biggest piece of Scott’s proposal, a $770 million reduction in corporate income taxes for manufacturing and retail companies. Instead the House is relying on a wider range of tax cuts that more people might feel in an election year when most state lawmakers are up for re-election. A 10-day cut in sales taxes on back to school shopping, a one-day reduction on hunting and fishing gear, and the elimination of sales tax on shopping at small businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving are all part of the House plan. In addition, the House is proposing a one-day sales tax reduction on computers, smart phones and other technology.