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Politics

House and Senate Pass Budget

April 29, 2010 - 6:00pm

The Legislature Friday settled on a $70.4 billion state budget and sent it to Gov. Charlie Crist before calling an end to the 2010 Legislature and heading off for home. The final figure increased the cost of state government by more than 5 percent over last year.

It is the most expensive state spending plan ever, the result of weeks of open haggling.

We did it in the most open and transparent process in the history of budget transactions, said Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, the chief budget negotiator for the House.

Leaders in both the Senate and the House repeatedly described this as a lean year for government, but in the end, even after program cuts, the total for state spending rose. And lawmakers said they wished it could have been more.

Do we wish we had spent more money on more programs? asked Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander. Good programs that we all believe in? Absolutely, said the Lake Wales Republican.

Among other things, the budget will:

  • Provide $15 million to the governor-supported Florida Forever land preservation program
  • Increase per-student education funding for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade by a total of $111 million
  • Increase funding for higher education projects by $305 million
  • Increase funds for the Agency for Health Care Administration from $18.23 billion to $20.8 billion -- at the expense of cuts of as much as 7 percent to several Medicaid health programs
  • Increase education funds from $21.3 billion to $22.5 billion in 2010
  • Increase transportation funds from $6.55 billion to $6.92 billion, although $160 million was swept from the State Transportation Trust Fund and the state is proposing to take back another $19 million in money loaned to the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority
  • Slightly decrease funds forthe Florida Public Service Commission from $27.9 million to $27.8 million
  • Lower the Department of the Lotterys budget from $139.1 million to $134.9 million
  • Lower the Department of Children and Family Services budget from $2.99 billion to $2.94 billion

The House passed the budget by a 77-43 vote after an hour of debate. Republicans voted for the budget as a block, with one Democrat, Rep. Darryl Rouson, of St. Petersburg breaking Democratic ranks to support the measure.

The Senate passed the spending plan hours later by a vote of 33-4. Sens. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, along with Nan Rich, D-Weston, and Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, were joined in a vote against the bill by Lakeland Republican Paula Dockery.

Republicans praised the budget as fiscally responsible, noting it it called for no new taxes or fees..

The budget is better than anyone expected, said Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, adding that things looked grim earlier in the year.

We all knew that coming into this budget, coming into this year, we needed to cut $3 billion from the budget, said Rep. Anitere Flores, R-Miami. She praised the budget for being able to increase the funding for education while avoiding raising taxes.

We have met our obligations, we have done what we have needed to do, said Flores. This is a budget to be proud of.

Still, the budget negotiation process was contentious from the start as negotiators tried to tackle a $3.2 billion deficit, and it led to passionate debate.

There is still a reduction, a cut, in the transportation trust fund, said incoming House Democratic leader Ron Saunders, D-Key West. This may lead to special sessions down the road.

House Democrats blasted the Republicans for relying on $2.3 billion from the federal stimulus to balance the budget.

Without the stimulus money, we could not vote without raising taxes, insisted Rep. Yolly Roberson, D-Miami.

Rich said only $70 million of $230 million in money from the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages program -- money the state is eagerly anticipating from the federal government -- would go to health programs.

We did not look at new resources, closing loopholes, Rich said during the budget debate.

She was joined in her opposition by Gelber, who said the budget did not do enough to fund education.

Sen. John Thrasher, R-Jacksonville, meanwhile praised budget negotiators saying they did their best to fund programs in a bad budget year.

I think their priorities are right, he told Senators. I think this is a very good budget. And I think you should be respectful.

Several Senate Democrats spoke out in support of the budget.

Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, voted for the budget.

Easy was not an option in this budget, and easy was not an option for the state of Florida, he said.

Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, concurred.

Every one of us said the sky is falling, but this is the biggest budget we've had in years, he said.

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