TALLAHASSEE — In what would be by far the largest budget in state history, legislators on Thursday released a record $112.1 billion spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year that includes more than $1 billion for pay raises for state workers and contractors.
All state workers will see across-the-board 5.38 percent pay raises. No state workers will make less than $15 per hour. And teachers, bus drivers, workers at state-contracted nursing homes and Medicaid contractors will all see their pay start at $15 per hour.
While lawmakers have been mired in grueling, emotional fights over abortion and other hot-button topics during this year’s legislative session, their proposed budget received little criticism.
The spending targets a host of practical problems, lawmakers say, including inflation. But it also addresses critical worker shortages.
Lawmakers’ proposal for school spending is one of the largest ever, and the Florida Education Association, which represents teachers, called it “a real step forward.” Prosecutors and public defenders will see raises between $5,000 and $10,000. Corrections officers would start at $20 per hour.
“This is a budget that will serve our state for generations to come,” Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said in a statement. Simpson made the $15 minimum wage a priority this legislative session.
The proposal was praised by Vicki Hall, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Florida, the largest union representing state workers.
“These historic increases to starting pay and significant across-the-board pay raises are well-deserved and much appreciated,” Hall said in a statement.
Ultimately, Gov. Ron DeSantis will have final say over how much the state spends in the 2022-23 fiscal year. (In December, he proposed a $99.7 billion budget, but in reality, it was at least $2 billion higher.)
He should be pleased. Lawmakers fund nearly all of his priorities.
They’re proposing $200 million in federal relief dollars to supplement a monthlong cut to the state’s gas tax in October.
DeSantis’ wish for $50 million for a job growth grant fund was approved. So was $12 million (from interest incurred from federal funds) to transport undocumented immigrants out of the state, and $10 million to reactivate the Florida State Guard to supplement the state’s National Guard.
The record spending plan is thanks to the state’s booming tax rolls coming out of the pandemic and billions of dollars handed down from Congress. The budget is 10.4 percent higher than last year’s $101.5 billion budget, which would be the largest one-year increase in at least a decade, according to data from Florida TaxWatch.
The Legislature is set to approve the budget, and end its legislative session, on Monday.
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Lawmakers have assigned $3.5 billion in federal dollars for various projects in the next fiscal year, with the biggest piece — about $1.4 billion — going to construction and maintenance for the state’s colleges and universities.
Another $400 million is going to support rural broadband initiatives. Another $80 million is going to build a new state emergency operations center, and $115 million is going to repair and renovate the state Capitol grounds.
They’re also spending federal money on arts and culture: $30.3 million for African American cultural historical grants, $13.8 million to build a state artifact facility and $10 million for cultural facilities grants.
Nearly $9 billion would be held in reserves, with another $1 billion held in an “inflation fund” to offset any increased costs for state projects.
Environmental money a mixed bag
The budget deal uses $800 million in federal funding for environmental spending, including $300 million to allow the Department of Agriculture to expand the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program.
That would bring the program from one that was not funded at all this year to one of the largest land-buying programs in the state.
That program, and four others totaling $349 million, were sought by Simpson, who is running for agriculture commissioner. Under the budget agreement, the money must be held in reserve until Jan. 1, 2023, halfway through the fiscal year.
The current agriculture commissioner, Democrat Nikki Fried, is running to challenge DeSantis for governor.
Some environmental advocates noted that the Florida Communities Trust program, which provides matching grants to create parks close to where people live, is not funded.
“This is wholly inadequate to address the needs for clean water, productive agriculture and parks for people,” said Lindsay Cross, water and land policy director for Florida Conservation Voters.
The environmental budget also includes $100 million for Lake Okeechobee water storage wells, projects sought by the sugar industry and Simpson, and $168.7 million in Florida Forever Programs and Land Acquisition spending at the Department of Environmental Protection.
On the health care side, Florida leaders once again turned down billions in federal subsidies that the state could have used to expand Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of working poor Floridians.
Lawmakers cut the bulk of a $309 million fund for hospitals that serve the state’s poorest and sickest Medicaid patients. Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami appears to have lost out on more than $71 million with that decision. Two Broward Health hospitals lost a combined $22 million or so.
“All hospitals are facing a serious staffing crunch and significant inflation in the cost of everything they do,” said Justin Senior, CEO of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida. “Losing this funding next year will put pressure on these facilities.”
However, some hospitals were spared. The state included nearly $85 million in extra funding for certain children’s hospitals such as Johns Hopkins All Children’s in St. Petersburg. And other hospitals — including Jackson — will continue to benefit from a program begun in 2021 that brought more than $1 billion in new federal funding during its first year.
Nursing homes got more than $200 million that must be spent on raising staff wages to $15 per hour. That could prove a big boost for many nursing home caregivers who make the state’s minimum wage of $10 per hour.
“In a session in which the majority generally inflicted pain or ignored the needs of working Floridians, caregivers and the elderly, this budget provision was a considerable slice of relief,” said Dale Ewart, executive vice president of 1199 Service Employees International Union in Florida, the union representing more than 24,000 active and retired caregivers across the state.
House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, fought for initiatives aimed at strengthening fatherhood in Florida. The health care budget funds two of those programs to the tune of more than $36 million.
Senate President Simpson prioritized more than $706 million in funding for a new Moffitt Cancer Center campus and related infrastructure in Pasco County. The budget includes that money, as well as $2 million for long-acting, reversible birth control for low-income women — another Simpson priority. (A similar program was vetoed by DeSantis last year.)
Big increase for school funding
Lawmakers agreed to spend $24.3 billion for K-12 education, including $250 million to boost pay for teachers.
Half of that would be dedicated to increasing minimum teacher salaries to $47,500 — a priority for DeSantis since he took office. The other half is meant to boost the pay for veteran educators who already make above the base salary.
“We’ve had teachers who haven’t had (raises) in many years because of the downturn that we had, so we put the money in hoping we can retain quality teachers. I think that is going to help our state as a whole,” said Senate Appropriations chairperson Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland.
In total, lawmakers are setting aside $800 million for teacher pay, a nearly 50 percent increase from the current year’s budget.
When asked if there was concern about keeping up with the funding in the future, Stargel said that it was a “priority” to fund that issue.
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