House approves its spending plan, setting up budget negotiations

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The House approved an $81.2 billion budget Thursday afternoon, sending the proposed fiscal 2017-18 spending plan to conference.

The House voted 89-26 to approve the budget proposal after about 45 minutes of debate, mostly from Democratic members raising concerns over spending for public school education, the environment and health care.

“I have to rise in opposition to this budget simply because of the fact that our priorities are out of whack,” said Rep. Loranne Ausley, a Tallahassee Democrat.

The House proposal, among other things, sets aside $200 million to create a “schools of hope” program that would shift students from failing schools to charter schools; includes $22.8 million for pay increases for corrections officers; includes $25 million for Visit Florida; and funds 46 new counter-terrorism positions.

The House proposal, however, doesn’t fund Enterprise Florida or a host of economic incentive programs associated with the public-private economic development agency, and does not include across the board pay raises for state employees. The Senate’s $85 billion proposal, which passed on a 39-0 vote Wednesday, includes both.

It also includes a partial cut to the office of State Attorney Aramis Ayala; while the budget the House approved Thursday strips Ayala’s office of $1.3 million.

“As far as this budget is concerned, I am rising in opposition for five distinct reasons. I oppose this budget because of the attacks we’ve decided that we wanted to take on business and our tourism, the attack on our children and education, the attacks on patients by cutting hospitals, the attacks on our seniors” said Rep. Amy Mercado, an Orlando Democrat. “But last, and definitely not least, I oppose this budget because of the political retribution that this body has decided on against State Attorney Ayala for executing and exercising her discretion in her office.”

Last month, Ayala announced she would no longer seek the death penalty in capital cases. Lawmakers acted swiftly, with Gov. Rick Scott reassigning 23 of her capital cases to State Attorney Brad King, while House and Senate budget writers proposed cuts.

State lawmakers will now head to conference over the budget. During a press conference last week, House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo said those negotiations could begin as early as next week.