Florida lawmakers have finished their work for the year. The 60-day legislative session had to have a few extra hours on Saturday for them to okay a $91.1 billion state budget.
The spending plan now awaits Governor Ron DeSantis’ signature. The governor is expected to veto some projects, but the budget process this year lacked the tension, drama and delays of past years. The budget calls for increasing total state spending by about two percent -- the slowest annual growth in state spending in several years.
The biggest area of spending is health care. It will consume about 40 cents of every dollar the state spends. About 30 cents of every dollar will be spent on education. Around 15 cents will be spent on the environment and transportation.
These are the major areas of state spending that we spoke about with three journalists covering the Legislature: Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida; Emily Mahoney from the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times and Bruce Ritchie from Politico.
Here are some highlights of the conversation, organized by budget area.
One of the health issues that dominated the public debate for Florida lawmakers was dealt with very early in the legislative session: They okayed smokable medical marijuana.
But other health care issues hold the potential of reshaping the health care industry — at least that’s the hope of Republicans who pushed for the changes, such as getting rid of the Certificate of Need requirement for hospitals in hopes of encouraging more competition.
Christine Sexton, News Service of Florida
• "I have been following health care for 20 years and for 20 years there have been attempts at eliminating the Certificate of Need requirement [for hospitals]. No one has been suucessful before this speaker, [House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes]...Eliminating this program is huge. It cannot be understated."
• "The speaker believes that by eliminating market entry, it will lower health care costs. That remains to be seen. They did not eliminate it for the nursing home program and that's predominating funded with Medicaid dollars."
Florida public schools will get more money beginning in July — over $240 more per student. The base student allocation, the money with the fewest strings attached, goes up by $75 per student.
While it’s a raise for traditional public schools, other education money will have to be shared more with charter schools.
• "When we're looking at how [K-12 spending] compares to last year, these are both pretty healthy increases in these two very important spending categories for schools -- [base student allocation and total per-pupil spending]."
• "Charter schools this year got about $150 million for [capital projects] and when you look at the budget it says $0 for public schools and $0 for universities. This is all talking about maintenance. And the reason is that when we're talking about local property taxes, school districts receive their proceeds from local property taxes in their counties and they are not required to share that funding with charter schools."
When Ron DeSantis ran for governor, his first significant issue statement was concerning the environment. Days after being sworn in as governor, his first substantial executive order also dealt with the environment.
And lawmakers listened, okaying over $680 million for water quality and the Everglades, but there will be less money to buy and protect Florida land.
Bruce Ritchie, Politico
• "I have difficultly reporting $682 million [in spending on water projects], because, to begin with, it includes $50 million for springs that was not spent in the current fiscal years...I don't think you get to count it twice,"
• "The governor requested $150 million for a pair of water quality programs...The Legislature gave $25 million each. There's another $100 million that the governor requested that's not there."