Florida House approves $74.4 billion budget

Apr 12, 2013

The following article was published in The Florida Current on April 12, 2013: 

House passes $74.4 billion budget

By Gray Rohrer


The House passed a $74.4 billion spending plan for the 2013-2014 fiscal year Friday, setting up budget talks with the Senate in the remaining three weeks of the legislative session. The vote on HB 5001(which was inserted into SB 1500) was 99-17, with a contingent of 16 Democrats voting against the budget. Rep. John Tobia, R-Melbourne Beach, was the lone opposing Republican vote.

Like the Senate, the House provides more money for state workers, teachers and education. There are distinct differences, however, between the two chambers.

The House gives $1,000 raises to state employees with a $400 raise for highly rated workers and provides $676 million for teacher raises, part of an overall $1.3 billion increase in education spending. The Senate provides 3 percent raises for state workers and just $480 million for teacher raises, the amount requested by Gov. Rick Scott to give a $2,500 raise to each teacher.

“The Florida House’s budget highlights our commitment to improving education, rewarding our hard-working teachers and state employees, and strengthening the safety net for our most vulnerable populations,” said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

The starkest difference between the chambers is the approach to possible Medicaid expansion as outlined by the federal Affordable Care Act. Neither chamber wants to expand the federal program that provides health care to low-income children and the elderly, but the Senate prefers a plan that would accept federal money to pay for premiums for private health care plans. The House unveiled a plan this week that would use only state funding for assistance to low-income families.

House Minority Leader Perry Thurston of Plantation scolded Republican leadership over the scaled-down plan that doesn’t accept federal money. However, he came down from a threat earlier in the week to take a Democratic caucus position against the budget if it didn’t include an expanded health care plan. He noted that Scott stated Thursday he prefers the Senate plan, and that Florida taxpayers would be paying for the Medicaid expansion in other states anyway.

“(Taxpayers) are going to be hit twice, because this is the law of the land and it will be implemented,” Thurston said.

In addition to health care and Medicaid plans, tax policies and education funding discrepancies are still to be resolved when conference committees from both chambers convene next week.

For instance, the Senate includes a three-day back-to-school sales tax holiday in a bill to implement an online sales tax that has been resisted in the House. The House includes its sales tax holiday in an omnibus tax package that gives tax breaks on aircraft sales and defense contractors, and provides tax incentives for spring training facilities for Major League Baseball teams. Senate leaders, meanwhile, want to crack down on tax breaks for favored industries, proffering the elimination of tax exemptions for insurance companies and international banking that have received tepid responses in the House.

The two sides also have competing plans to spend $200 million in funds from a foreclosure fraud settlement with large banks; the Senate preferring to spend more on affordable housing programs while the House would set aside money for down payment assistance for qualifying home buyers.

Read the original article here:  http://www.thefloridacurrent.com/article.cfm?id=32410848