Florida House, Senate education budgets differ by $538m, with split over taxes

Sen. David Simmons discusses tax rates Wednesday during review of his proposed 2018 education budget. The Florida Channel
Sen. David Simmons discusses tax rates Wednesday during review of his proposed 2018 education budget.The Florida Channel
Published March 29 2017
Updated March 29 2017

Florida's education budget is becoming the focus of a confrontation over local property taxes and what constitutes a tax increase.

The state House has taken a strong position that if property owners pay more in taxes, that's a hike, and it shouldn't happen. They cite the state's Truth in Millage rules, which require governments to alert property owners if the proposed tax rates would result in higher payments.

The Senate, by contrast, has taken a different stance.

"This is not a tax increase," Senate PreK-12 Appropriations chairman David Simmons said Wednesday. "It is simply leaving things as they are."

That's why the House proposed prek-12 education budget looks much different than the Senate's version, which Simmons' committee advanced to the full Appropriations Committee on Wednesday with no member comment.

Overall, the House has proposed a $20.424 billion bottom line, compared to the Senate recommendation of $20.963 billion. The House would increase per-student spending by 0.27 percent, to $7,223.71, while the Senate calls for a 2.91 percent rise, to $7,414.26.

The budgets vary in several other ways as a result, including how they would spend on teacher bonuses, local projects and other programs.

The tax rate makes the $538 million difference.

The Senate has called for no change in the required local effort of $4.638 per $1,000 of assessed value. The House wants to cut the rate to $4.322 per $1,000, a 6.81 percent reduction.

"I look forward to a very healthy and intellectual conversation on that issue," Simmons said.

UPDATE: In a statement later Wednesday, House Speaker Richard Corcoran reiterated his stance on taxes and the required local effort.

"The Florida House will not raise taxes," Corcoran said "Instead, we will offer Floridians unprecedented levels of tax relief while balancing the budget and refusing to borrow against the future of our children. The final tax cut product will be aimed directly at everyday Floridians trying to make ends meet. The cornerstone of these concepts are the rejection of the RLE back door property tax hike as well as the additional $25,000 Homestead Exemption."