House approves budget with overwhelming bipartisan support

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With an overwhelmingly bipartisan 100-16 vote, the House passed a $75.3 billion budget Thursday, opening the door for final negotiations later this month.

The addition of another $1.2 billion from a rebounding Florida economy helped boost government spending in several areas—including education, healthcare and infrastructure while lowering the burden on taxpayers.

The basic breakdown of the 2014-15 House General Appropriations Act is as follows: general revenue funds of $27.6 billion, state trust funds of $22.1 billion and $25.6 billion in federal funds. As a show of financial accountability, the House also set aside $2.9 billion in emergency reserves.

“The Florida House has passed a fiscally responsible budget that maximizes every dollar, increases our commitment to per-student funding in education, makes strategic investments in infrastructure, and provides half a billion dollars in tax relief to Floridians,” said House Speaker Will Weatherford in a statement.

“I applaud Chair McKeel for balancing the critical needs of our state while also taking responsible steps to prepare for any future economic uncertainty.”

Additional state spending enabled 28 Democrats to support the budget, which will begin July 1, once approved by the Senate and signed by Gov. Rick Scott. Those few lawmakers voting against the bill generally did so because of the House decision not to extend Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.

“I don’t have mixed emotions, I have a grave concern, I have a heavy heart,” State Rep. Mia Jones, one of the few votes against the new budget, told Matt Dixon of PolticalFixFlorida.com.

Among the spending increases for the state’s healthcare system, the House set aside $20 million, an increase of $8 million, to get nearly 1,200 people off the waiting list for home and community-based services through the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, a high priority for House members.

Nearly $13 million more will go into the Florida Kid Care program, with $36.3 million to serve almost 270,000 low-income children. An additional $44.5 million will also be invested into the Department of Children and Families, to fund additional child-protection services, reduce investigator caseloads and supervisor to investigator ratios.

The proposed education budget totals $20.7 billion, a $380.0 million (1.87 percent) increase over the 2013-2014 budget.

As a portion of the general revenue, spending on education increased by $216.1 million (1.53 percent) for a total of $14.4 billion. State trust funds increased by $547.0 million (3.45 percent) for a total of $6.3 billion.

The Florida Education Finance Program funds will increase 3.07 percent, adding $207.98 per student. FEFP includes $19.0 billion in total funding; an increase of $740.8 million.

The Senate should pass its budget later Thursday afternoon, setting the stage for the final negotiations, which could begin as soon as this weekend.

More revenue coming into the state will help make budget negotiations a much smoother process than in the past.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.