Florida budget talks commence with reduced tax holidays and increased funding for prisons.

The Florida House and Senate are making significant progress in their efforts to finalize the budget for the next fiscal year, with spending plans exceeding $115 billion. The House is set to vote on its budget proposal (HB 5001) on Thursday, after which the Senate will review it and initiate budget talks, according to Senate President Kathleen Passidomo. She expressed confidence in completing the budget on time and within budget, similar to the previous session. The House and Senate budgets differ by approximately $350 million, with the House proposing a lower budget. Both budgets represent reductions from the current fiscal year’s $119.1 billion budget, which concludes on June 30.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Doug Broxson stated that the final budget would include debt repayment and record reserves, but the sales-tax “holidays” would likely be more restricted compared to last year. As the 60-day legislative session reaches its midpoint, lawmakers will need to reconcile differences on various issues, including prison funding and tourism marketing. The legislative session is scheduled to conclude on March 8. Additionally, the House Ways & Means Committee will begin discussing a package of tax breaks that will run parallel to the budget.

Governor Ron DeSantis has proposed $1.1 billion in tax breaks, a decrease from the $1.3 billion offered in the current fiscal year, which featured numerous sales-tax holidays. The governor’s plan for the 2024-2025 fiscal year includes six tax holidays and a one-year exemption on property-insurance taxes, fees, and assessments for homeowners with properties valued up to $750,000. Passidomo expressed support for the insurance proposal, while Broxson deemed it a “nice idea” but not a significant budget item.

One of the major issues in the Senate budget is a 30-year plan worth over $3 billion to repair deteriorating prison infrastructure and construct new facilities. Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Chairwoman Jennifer Bradley described the plan as a promising initial step. The Senate also supports Passidomo’s “Live Healthy” plan, which aims to attract more doctors and enhance access to healthcare with a budget of $767.4 million. Visit Florida, the state’s tourism-marketing arm, would receive $80 million in the Senate plan, matching the current year’s allocation, while the House proposes $30 million. Governor DeSantis has called for $105 million.

Meanwhile, the House is advocating for increased pay for future governors and other state leaders through a budget “conforming” bill (HB 5007). Starting in the 2027-2028 fiscal year, the House measure would require the governor to receive the same salary as state Supreme Court justices, who currently earn $251,414 annually. In his latest financial-disclosure report, Governor DeSantis reported receiving $141,400 in 2022. House Appropriations Chairman Tom Leek noted that 1,900 state employees earn higher salaries than the governor. The proposal also includes salary increases for the lieutenant governor, Cabinet members, and appellate, circuit, and county judges.

Both the House and Senate budgets incorporate funding for approximately 1,000 local projects and programs requested by individual legislators. House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell raised concerns about the distribution of funds, highlighting that 993 projects and programs in the House package amount to $1.3 billion, with over 90 percent proposed by Republicans. Driskell emphasized the need for equitable consideration based on merit and necessity, as less than 10 percent of the funding is allocated to projects in Democratic districts.

The lawmakers’ projects and programs represent relatively small portions of the overall budget plans. The House budget amounts to $115.55 billion, while the Senate budget reaches $115.9 billion. Both budgets include 3 percent pay raises for state employees and a 2.5 percent increase in per-student funding for kindergarten through 12th-grade students under the Florida Education Finance Program, the state’s primary school-funding formula.

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