Florida lawmakers push for a budget they say saves for emergencies
The Florida Senate is proposing a 2024-25 state budget of $115.9 billion, slightly more than the House spending plan.
House and Senate budget bills, each topping $115 billion, are making their way through the legislative process. Last week, the appropriations bills cleared budget committees in each chamber and will go through the amendment process this week.
District 1 Pensacola Republican Sen. Doug Broxson is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He said his focus is on passing a balanced budget that includes plenty of cushion for emergencies.
Support Local Stories. Donate Here.
“We’re a state that’s the most hurricane-prone state in the world, with storms yet to be named that will cost us billions,” Broxson stated. “And, as always, we’re always concerned about a down-turn in the national economy.”
Similar concerns have been expressed by House budget chief, Representative Tom Leek of Ormond Beach. That’s why both proposed spending plans are a bit less than the current budget.
“When you look out three to five years, as we typically do, you can see a point where if we continue to spend on the base that we have been spending over the years that your spending is going to get too close and uncomfortable to the revenue projections,” said Leek.
But, according to Sen. Broxson, the state is once again flush with revenue — enough to take care of residents’ needs and then some.
“The two years I’ve been the appropriations chair, we've had more resources than in the history of the state,” said Broxson. “And, I want to pass some of that on to the two officers that will take over for the next four years.”
With that in mind, the Senate budget (SPB 2500) for 2024-25 includes a set aside of about $16 billion in reserves.
“We're going to pay off some debt and we're going to have some tax holidays, and, we're going to fund all the things that are essential to the state, including higher ed. It's a balanced budget that makes sense and we're proud of our budget.”
Hitting some of the highlights, the largest portion of the Senate’s proposed budget, nearly $46 billion, is dedicated to health care.
“Medicaid is approaching 30% of our total budget. And, that and the other health care, nursing homes, other, kids care; all those things eat up a majority,” stated Broxson.
The second largest appropriation is $45.1 billion for education, for K-12 and higher education combined.
“That is, a big number, but it's necessary and we're very glad to be able to have the ability to meet all those needs,” he said.
“When you look out three to five years, as we typically do, you can see a point where if we continue to spend on the base that we have been spending over the years that your spending is going to get too close and uncomfortable to the revenue projections.”Rep. Tom Leek
Sen. Broxson also pointed to environmental protection with what he called “an incredible amount of money to the Everglades” and to the South Florida water system.
Senate spending on criminal justice includes $100 million in capital outlay that will be recurring for 30 years.
“So we're going to rebuild the infrastructure of our correctional system, which is really outdated,” Broxson said. “And we've got to do it. And this year we're going to make that attempt to start.”
However, spending plans from the two chambers reflect differences in funding for prisons. Other key differences include education spending and money for tourism marketing.
And while a lot of money is being allocated for healthcare, how those funds will be spent is expected to be one of the biggest sticking points of House and Senate budget negotiations.
“The president of the senate (Kathleen Passidomo) has rolled out her healthcare plan, which really revitalizes the whole concept of healthcare in Florida,” Broxson said. “And hopefully over a period of time it's going to reduce charges that people are paying. We're in an unsustainable direction as far as cost of health care as you probably know.”
According to Broxson, the Senate’s plan is to put $350 million of general revenue into shoring up health care this year, just for state workers.
One of his priorities involves the use of federal COVID dollars to build transportation infrastructure, adding to what’s already been spent on roads in the central part of the state.
“That is going to make sure that the people that come to visit Florida, and pay a fourth of our sales tax, have good roads to go back and forth on and encourage them to continue to come to Florida,” said Broxson.
He pointed out that such spending is a priority for Gov. Ron DeSantis and added that he’d like to shift some of those dollars to the Panhandle for projects, “hopefully along I-10 and Beulah (Rd.) to have an exchange there.”
Nearing the half-way point in this year’s legislative session, there’s still a lot of work to be done to arrive at a compromise spending plan that the governor will sign. This week that includes the amendment process. It’s an often painful process where members will have to prioritize their top local projects to be funded.
Broxson has his own long list, which includes money for the old Baptist Hospital property on West Moreno Street in Pensacola.
“We're certainly concerned about the campus that Baptist is on that, that would be a blighted area if they do not have the resources to convert that into affordable homes,” Broxson said. “And we want to help the city do their part to buy that property and give Baptist the resources to make that usable space. That's a big priority.”
Along with many smaller projects, the senator said he also wants funding to continue building projects at the University of West Florida and Pensacola State College.
And, as lawmakers work toward a balanced budget for the state of Florida, Broxson and other members of the Senate are backing Gov. DeSantis’ call for constitutional amendments requiring federal term limits and a balanced federal budget.
Copyright 2024 WUWF. To see more, visit WUWF.