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Florida Legislature Set to Adopt State Budget for Fiscal Year 2017-18

While the budget and supporting legislation about to be passed by the Florida Legislature contain some positives, including additional funding for higher education, a salary increase for the state workforce and a major investment in the environment, the overall level of investment in Florida’s future leaves much to be desired.

FPI Staff
May 2017

The Florida Legislature will take a final vote on the state budget for Fiscal Year 2017-18 on Monday, May 8. The budget they will vote up or down totals $82.4 billion, an increase of $70 million, 0.08 percent, over the current year.

This legislative session has been particularly contentious because of the differing approaches of the Florida House and Senate in building their chambers’ budgets for the coming year. The House worked under direction from leadership to reduce the budget by at least $1 billion. Two Senate leadership initiatives alone increased their budget by more than $1 billion over the current year. This $2 billion discrepancy was the starting point for budget negotiations.

In addition, the federal government entered the fray late in the legislative process with an offer of $900 million in federal health care funding for a $600 million state match. Absent details about the terms and conditions of the funding, the funding is addressed in a separate bill that requires legislative approval of a spending plan through the Legislative Budget Commission.

Funding to address the toxic overflows from Lake Okeechobee is addressed in Senate Bill (SB) 10, rather than the budget. SB 10 allows $800 million in bonding authority over the next two years to acquire the land and create water storage for this purpose. It also earmarks up to $64 million annually from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to repay debt associated with the bonds.

An additional $414 million is tied to the passage of a controversial 278-page education conference package that will be voted up or down by the Legislature on Monday (Conference Report on House Bill 7069). Included in the package are funds for teacher and principal bonuses and $200 million to create new charter schools or to enable the existing traditional schools to provide additional services for students in persistently failing schools.

Below are the highlights of the budget on which the Legislature will vote Monday.

Tax Reductions

The total cost of the legislative tax package to the state is more than $80 million. The tax package includes:

  • Almost $28 million for a three-day back-to-school sales tax holiday.
  • More than $22 million for a reduction in the sales tax rate for business rent.
  • More than $5 million for a three-day disaster preparedness sales tax holiday.
  • Almost $4 million for a new sales tax exemption for certain feminine hygiene products.

Education

Total funding for education is $24 billion, including almost $2 billion in Lottery funds. The funding represents an increase of almost $600 million over the current year. Notable aspects of the funding include:

  • An increase of less than 1 percent in per-student public school funding. Specifically, the per-student funding increases by $24 per student, from $7,196 to $7,220. The public school funding holds local property taxes constant at the current year level.
  • Almost $397 million, an increase of $1.6 million, for the Voluntary Prekindergarten Program to accommodate enrollment growth. The funding increase does not provide an increase in per-student funding.
  • Almost $973 million, an increase of $17.4 million, for Florida College System Program funding.
  • Almost $4.07 billion, an increase of $279 million, for state university instruction and research.

Health and Human Services

Total funding for health and human services is $34 billion, a decrease of almost $149 million from the current year. Notable aspects of the funding include:

  • $19.5 billion in Medicaid Services to Individuals, a decrease of $284.6 million.
  • Maintenance of funding for mental health and community substance abuse funding, at $356 million and $723 million, respectively.
  • More than $1.35 billion, an increase of $31.5 million, to reduce domestic violence and increases child welfare services to address increased caseload.
  • More than $147 million in cash assistance to needy families, but the state funding for this program decreased by 9 percent from the current year.

Public Safety

Total funding for public safety is $4.79 billion, an increase of $27 million over the current year. Notable aspects of the funding include:

  • $2.42 billion for the Department of Corrections, an increase of $21 million over the current year. The budget provides an additional $3.3 million to fund an additional 131 correctional officers and provide salary adjustments to retain current officers.
  • Almost $410 million for inmate health services, an increase of $50 million over the current year.
  • Almost $565 million for the Department of Juvenile Justice, which represents a 3 percent increase over the current year.
  • Almost $97 million for Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigative services, representing a $16 million increase over the current year.

Economic Development

The Legislature eliminates funding for Enterprise Florida, Inc., the controversial public/private partnership that serves as the economic development agency for the state. Other notable aspects of the funding include:

  • Funding for Strategic Business Development in the Department of Economic Opportunity is reduced from almost $182 million in the current year to $78 million.
  • Affordable housing funding is reduced from $200 million to $137 million. Moreover, the Legislature swept an additional $154 million from the state affordable housing trust fund to spend elsewhere in the budget.

Transportation

The transportation budget for the coming fiscal year is $10.9 billion, an increase of $133 million over the current year. Other notable aspects of the funding include:

  • A reduction of 60 percent in bridge construction funding over the current year, resulting in funding of $307 million.
  • An increase of 34 percent in the Transportation System Development Program, resulting in funding of $1.3 billion.
  • A reduction of 25 percent in railway funding, resulting in funding of $314 million.

Environmental Protection

The notable aspects of funding for environmental protection include:

  • A reduction of almost 30 percent in Water Policy and Ecosystem Restoration, resulting in funding of $270 million.
  • A reduction of 44 percent in the State Lands Program, resulting in funding of $169 million.
  • An increase of $14 million for Everglades restoration, resulting in funding of $203 million.

 

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