Leaders in the House and Senate agreed to a $69 billion, no-new-taxes budget following an 11 p.m. conferencing meeting Monday. After the mandatory 72-hour waiting period, it will head to a vote Friday. (Click on the full budget here: http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/filestores/Adhoc/Appropriations/GAA/2010-House/Conference%20Report%20House%20Bill%205001.pdf)
While the final budget was closer to the Senates initial proposal than the Houses first draft of $66 billion and relied on additional Medicaid funding that the House initially resisted, House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, said he was pleased with the final result.
The Florida House pledged to conduct budget negotiations with four principles in mind," he said. "Ensuring no new taxes; protecting the K-12 education budget from reductions; providing adequate reserves to preserve our AAA bond rating; and preventing the use of uncertain federal monies for operating and programmatic expenses. With the cooperation of our Senate partners, we met those four principles during this exceptionally challenging budget session.
While the House initially rejected including an extra $1 billion that will flow into the state if Congress approves an extension of Medicaid funds, the budget on which the House and Senate agreed has provisions to include those monies. Funding for Everglades restoration projects will increase from the current $10 million to $50 million if Congress extends the Medicaid funds.
While the initial House plan considered a 3 percent reduction in the salaries of state employees, the Legislature's final budget leaves current salaries intact, though for the fifth year in a row there will be no increases in the pay of state workers.
While the budget does not raise taxes, students in community colleges and public universities will be facing 7 percent tuition hikes, and the Legislature has given public post-secondary schools the option of raising tuition as much as 15 percent.
Nursing homes and hospitals were not as fortunate. They saw 7 percent of their funding decreased. While the House initially planned to cut more, libraries retained $21 million in state funding.
Leaders in the House and Senate said this was a lean year for the budget. Nevertheless, the cost of government continues to grow in Florida. The budget was $66.5 billion last year. Ten years ago it came in at $51 billion.
While the House and Senate appear set taking a budget vote Friday, Gov. Charlie Crist, who can wield his power to effect a line-item veto, can still alter it.
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com or (850) 727-0859.