Negotiators reach deal on Florida state budget

Posted at 7:41 AM, May 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-01 07:41:38-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida legislative negotiators struck a deal Tuesday night on a multibillion-dollar state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, including a significant increase in spending on public schools.

The House and Senate cannot cast final votes on the spending plan at the earliest until late Friday, the scheduled final day of the 60-day legislative session. State law requires a 72-hour "cooling off" period before a final vote so the document can be reviewed.

The exact total was not immediately available, but proposals from the Republican-led Legislature and GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis are all in the $90 billion range.

Public schools, which make up a large chunk of the spending, would see an overall increase of more than $782 million or about 3.7% in the main account compared with last year, according to budget documents. That translates to a little over $242 additionally per student for the coming school year.

The agreement also calls for a nearly 2% increase in discretionary money that Florida's 67 school districts can use for a variety of purposes, including raises for teachers and school staff.

"In a nutshell, we've been very good to schools this session," said Republican Rep. Travis Cummings of Fleming Island, chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

Democrats have criticized Republican measures to create more voucher programs for students to attend private and religious schools at taxpayer expense, including a bill sent to DeSantis earlier Tuesday. But Republicans have countered that their budget shows they are not abandoning public schools.

"This was a very big year for traditional public schools," said GOP Sen. Rob Bradley, the Senate Appropriations Committee chair who is also from Fleming Island.

The budget includes about $682 million for environmental needs such as Everglades restoration and protection of Florida's many freshwater springs. It would spend more than $280 million on education construction and maintenance work and tens of millions of dollars on a variety of programs to help the Florida Panhandle recover from Hurricane Michael, which struck the area in October as a powerful Category 5 storm.

The budget in many areas follows recommendations by DeSantis with some exceptions. DeSantis has line-item veto authority once legislators pass the budget, meaning he can eliminate specific areas even if legislators approved them.

The spending plan also contains dozens of last-minute projects sprinkled across the state ranging from $100,000 for rehabilitation of former President Harry S. Truman's Little White House in Key West to $200,000 for Elevate Lake, an economic development office in north Florida's Lake County.

"We got a lot of work done in a timely manner," Bradley said.