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House Democrats Pick At Budget

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - The House is poised to approve a $75.3 billion budget proposal after several hours of at-times testy but mostly tame debate Wednesday about the spending plan for the year that begins July 1.

The Republican majority continued to sing the praises of the blueprint (HB 5001), which is expected to pass Thursday and set up negotiations with the Senate, which would spend $74.9 billion. The Senate will begin debate on its version of the budget Thursday, perhaps voting later in the day.

Even House Democratic leaders concede that members of their caucus are likely to support the spending plan, jammed with politically popular goodies in an election year.

Armed with a surplus, the House wants to increase per-student funding for public schools by almost 3.1 percent, raising the total amount of education funding to record levels. The budget would also provide services to about 1,260 Floridians seeking services from the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, clearing a waiting list of the people with the most serious needs.

And it would funnel tens of millions of dollars into the Department of Children and Families in an attempt to quiet concerns about a spate of deaths among children who had come to the attention of the agency.

Those Democrats who did try to raise objections to the plan Wednesday largely picked around the edges, emphasizing how the budget could have been better, by providing for an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, making more progress on the Agency for Persons with Disabilities waiting list or giving across-the-board salary increases to state workers.

“As we look at this budget, do we see that there are potentially other dollars there that we can possibly identify for pay raises for state employees?” asked Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-Jacksonville.

House Appropriations Chairman Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, noted that neither legislative chamber has proposed a pay increase this year — signaling that while a boost in salary could be approved by House and Senate negotiators, it’s unlikely.

House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, ripped the budget in a statement issued Wednesday announcing that he would oppose the bill.

“The budget throws away billions of dollars of your tax money in breaks to big, multi-state corporations with well-connected lobbyists and doesn’t meet the true needs of Florida’s middle class, working families and small businesses,” he said.

But speaking with reporters after the session, Thurston conceded that lockstep Democratic opposition was unlikely. A bipartisan vote for the spending plan in committee marked the first time since 2007 that Democrats had backed the budget at that level.

“I think there will probably be members in our caucus who think that this budget does more and that they have some basis for voting for it,” Thurston said.

This report is by Brandon Larrabee with The News Service of Florida.

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