Florida lawmakers unveil record $89 billion budget, which grew thanks to Parkland, hurricanes

If school spending was the dominant topic for the last half of the legislative session, it’s hospital spending that caused lawmakers to miss their Tuesday deadline.
Published March 9, 2018|Updated March 9, 2018

Florida lawmakers unveiled a record $89 billion budget on Thursday, which represents a 7.6 percent increase over this year's budget, or about $6.3 billion.

One of the biggest single increases was for the state's proposed emergency response spending, which climbed by $1.5 billion. Much of that was for hurricane preparedness, a main goal for lawmakers after Hurricane Irma.

Another big number: $400 million. That's how much lawmakers are devoting in response to last month's massacre in Parkland, which became far and away the top priority for this year's Legislature.

They're spending $97 million for more school resource officers and $67 million for a highly controversial program to train and arm school staff.

Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign the gun and school security bill Friday.
Yet while educators understand the need for school security and mental health programs, lawmakers say it's taken away money from other programs and causing school officials to tighten their belts.

"More and more continues to be asked of our districts who want to provide their communities the first class education opportunities they deserve," said Andrea Messina, president of the Florida School Boards Association. "With such a tight budget, districts are finding it increasingly challenging to offer anything beyond what state mandates require."

But if school spending was the dominant topic for the last half of the legislative session, it's hospital spending that caused lawmakers to miss their Tuesday deadline.

The Senate had proposed changing the current Medicaid funding model for hospitals by redistributing $318 million to the 200-plus hospitals in the state.

Under the Senate plan, Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital stood to lose about $58 million and Tampa General about $14 million. Other hospitals, including the for-profit Hospital Corporation of America, could have seen its reimbursements rise by more than $40 million.

But the House wanted to keep spending the same, and that's what the Senate agreed to — in exchange for getting $50 million for nursing homes.
Lawmakers are also spending $53 million — most of it from a federal grant — to combat the opioid crisis.

Colleges and universities made out well. Performance-based funding for universities, doled out based on graduation rates and other factors, was increased by $20 million.

Funding for "pre-eminent" universities, a category that qualifies institutions for millions in additional funding, also increased by $20 million — just in time for the University of South Florida's Tampa campus, which will likely earn the distinction this year. The Legislature took measures in its major higher education bill this session, SB 4, to make sure USF could reach that status.

Also in a last-minute change, USF and Miami's Florida International University emerged with more money: $7 million for USF's downtown medical school campus, scheduled to open in late 2019, and about $10.6 million for FIU's engineering building.

Here are some of the others ways they're spending your money:

Hurricanes and sea level rise

• $15 million for a three-dimensional map of the entire state and $350,000 for a study of petroleum distribution centers, in anticipation of the next hurricane.

• $3.6 million for a study of coastal sea level rise and $327,000 for a study of coastal flood hazards by Florida International University.

• $1.5 million for a feasibility study of extending the Suncoast Parkway from Crystal River in Citrus County to the Florida-Georgia border, which is a vital hurricane evacuation zone.

Environment and agriculture

• $175 million for Everglades restoration.

• $30 million for various local water projects throughout the state, a much smaller amount than in previous budgets.

• $50 million to expedite the rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee, a Scott priority.

• $55 million to property owners in Palm Beach and Broward counties who successfully sued the state over the eradication of diseased citrus trees. Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a similar appropriation last year.

Criminal Justice

• $21.6 million to treat inmates infected with Hepatitis C, required in a court settlement, and another $5 million to address mental health issues among inmates.

• $250,000 for a program that allows clerks of court to text information to defendants to remind them of their court dates. It's based on a New York program that led to a 25 percent reduction in missed court dates.

•$2 million for a study of cancer risks to firefighters by the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Times/Herald staff writers Elizabeth Koh, Steve Bousquet and Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this story. Contact Lawrence Mower at Follow @lmower3

What's next:

Florida's $88.7 billion budget will be ratified by legislators in an unusual Sunday afternoon session in Tallahassee. After Gov. Rick Scott receives the budget (HB 5001), he has 15 calendar days to sign it and has the power to veto any line item. The new budget will take effect on July 1.

total positions: 112,806.57
total budget: 82,418,458,905

total positions: 112,857.21
total budget: 88,727,534,353
total positions: + 50.64
total budget: + 6,309,075,448