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Lawmakers Face Long Friday After Budget Release

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Florida Legislature (Source: David Sutta/CBS4)

Florida Legislature (Source: David Sutta/CBS4)

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Legislative Session Coverage

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — Lawmakers may face a late night Friday after a budget compromise was emailed Tuesday evening.

A compromise budget was emailed to lawmakers at 8:35 p.m.,  meaning the Legislature will be in session until at least the same time Friday evening. The Florida Constitution requires a 72-hour waiting period from the time lawmakers are given the budget until a final vote can be taken.

The final document, which will take effect July 1, weighs in at $77.1 billion. That’s larger than the proposed House or Senate budgets and the largest in state history in raw dollars. Additional funding in Medicaid, springing from local tax dollars used to draw down federal money, and an increase in the state’s transportation work plan accounted for most of the differences between the earlier budgets and the final version.

The plan includes the highest total amount of public education funding in state history, though the per-student figure is still short of the high-water mark that schools received before the financial collapse. State universities will see $200 million divvied up based on performance — including $100 million of new funding.

Tens of millions of dollars will flow toward protecting and restoring the Everglades and related waterways and Florida’s springs. Waiting lists for state services will be trimmed — though not enough for some critics — and more investigators will be hired to look into allegations of child abuse.

The election-year package also makes room for $500 million in tax and fee reductions, though which charges will be slashed remains a subject of debate between the House and Senate.

“It’s a budget that I think prioritizes the needs of the state,” said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. “I’m sure there will be people that will have some complaints about it. No budget is perfect.”

Negotiators led by Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and House Appropriations Chairman Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, scrambled up until close to the last minute to get the final details nailed down. All the issues between the chambers had essentially been settled at a Monday meeting that lasted until almost midnight, but the House had to make a last-minute revision to one of its offers Tuesday afternoon.

That offer was part of a flurry of 11th-hour projects added to the measure, tens of millions of dollars spent on everything from money for state libraries, to an additional $25 million for charter schools after the final construction funding for charters came in lower than the House had hoped, to a proposal to boost personal needs allowances for nursing-home residents.

The allowance funding was something pushed by Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and added to an increase that had already worked its way through the process. Residents will now get $100 a month, up from $35 a month.

“This appropriation has no special interests behind it, no lobbyists hired to advocate for it, and no campaign to pass it,” Gaetz said in a statement. “The personal needs allowance is for our mothers and fathers, our grandparents and elders who built Florida and now look to us for basic decency that allows them to maintain their dignity.”

Republicans say they spread around the extra money — lawmakers had a surplus of about $1.2 billion — and put a bipartisan slate of priorities into the measure.

They were hoping for an overwhelming show of support on Friday, much like the lopsided votes in both chambers during last year’s session.

“I worked really hard to make our budget an inclusive budget, and I think that will be reflected in the vote that takes place on it on Friday,” Weatherford said.

“The News Service of Florida’s Brandon Larrabee contributed to this report.”

 

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