TALLAHASSEE — Florida lawmakers on Monday approved a sprawling $112.1 billion spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year — the largest in state history — that includes a huge investment to increase the pay of state workers and contractors.
Bipartisan approval of the spending plan marked the end of the annual legislative session, one that featured heated partisan and cultural clashes over policy and a once-a-decade redrawing of lines for congressional and state legislative districts.
The budget cleared the Senate on a unanimous vote shortly after the House passed it on a 105 to 3 vote. Republican Rep. Anthony Sabatini of Howey-in-the-Hills, Democratic Rep. Michael Grieco of Miami Beach and Democratic Rep. Dotie Joseph of North Miami Beach voted against the budget in the House. Six senators did not vote on the budget.
“I think you guys gave an enormous amount of good things this legislative session,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a press conference shortly after lawmakers adjourned. “I’m really proud to see a lot of stuff that came across the finish line.”
The governor’s speech was interrupted by protesters who threw hundreds of fake $100 bills down on DeSantis and Republican legislative leaders while they held a press conference with dozens of attendees.
“Stop funding corporations, fund our communities,” protesters shouted as they were escorted away by security.
DeSantis will have final say over how much the state spends in the 2022-23 fiscal year. While he has not shied away from vetoing budget items in recent years, the budget is packed with nearly all of his priorities, so many of the big-ticket items are likely to remain intact.
For instance, lawmakers included $200 million in federal relief dollars to supplement a monthlong cut to the state’s gas tax in October; $12 million to relocate undocumented immigrants out of state; $10 million to reactivate the Florida State Guard with a force of up to 400 volunteers, and $50 million for a job growth grant fund.
The budget also included 5.38 percent pay raises for all state workers and a commitment that no state workers will make less than $15 an hour. Prosecutors and public defenders will see additional raises, between $5,000 and $10,000. And correctional officers will earn a minimum of $20 per hour.
A $50 million spending item for a new appellate court district based in the hometown of the Senate’s powerful appropriations chairperson is also part of the budget. The move would allow DeSantis to appoint seven new judges.
The threats to withhold $200 million from 12 school districts — including Miami-Dade, Broward and Hillsborough — that imposed strict mask mandates last fall took another form in the budget. Those districts will be barred from accessing a pool of money used to reward well-performing schools.
While almost all Democrats voted for the budget, they blasted Republicans for focusing during the session on issues designed to appeal to the Republican base. Among other things, lawmakers passed measures to prevent abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, increase immigration enforcement and create a new state office to investigate alleged election irregularities.
“This was a pure and simple culture war that we saw here,” said House Minority Leader Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach. “So much emphasis being placed on things that really have little to no impact on people’s everyday lives. And, really, what we’re looking at is (an) erasure of certain communities. A demonizing and an otherizing of other communities. And, really, I’d have to say it’s been the most partisan and culturally driven session that I’ve ever been a part of, and that is not a good thing.”
But Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, chairperson of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said lawmakers got a lot done amid the controversies.
“I think when everyone settles down, looks at what we got accomplished, those things will still be a discussion. But the overall product delivered in session was a very accomplished session,” said Stargel, who sponsored the abortion limit along with being the Senate’s chief budget writer. “We got a ton done. A lot of the rhetoric took a lot of priority. But I think after that’s all settled, it will have been a great year.”
While the Legislature has officially adjourned, the leader of the Senate Democratic caucus on Monday suggested that lawmakers could be called back to Tallahassee for a special session over issues lawmakers didn’t address, including affordable workforce housing and rising property insurance rates.
“Clearly we’re going to be back,” said Democratic Sen. Lauren Book of Plantation.
Tampa Bay Times reporter Lawrence Mower contributed to this report. Information from the News Service of Florida was used in this report.
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