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Politics

House and Senate Set to Vote on $70 Billion Budget

April 26, 2010 - 6:00pm

During the House session Tuesday afternoon, staffers placed copies of the 2010-11 budget on representatives desks -- unveiling a state budget that rose from $66.5 billion last year to almost $70.4 billion, an increase of more than 5 percent.

At more than 400 pages long, the final agreement in the Legislature cost Florida taxpayers more than any budget in the states history -- and more than any of the three initial budgetary proposals.

Earlier this year, Gov. Charlie Crist proposed a $69.2 billion budget. On April 1, the House passed a $67.2 billion budget on party lines while the Senate unanimously approved a $69.5 billion budget March 31.

Asked about the increased cost of government in Florida, Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said, The main reason is Medicaid.

Weatherford pointed to the continued increase of Medicaid expenses in Florida, noting that the Legislature cut from general revenue while still wrestling with expanding Medicaid costs.

Many state agencies and departments saw their budgets increase. State education spending rose from $21.3 billion in 2009 to $22.5 billion in 2010. Transportation spending rose from $6.55 billion in 2009 to $6.92 billion in 2010. The Agency for Health Care Administrations budget increased from $18.23 billion to $20.8 billion. The Department of Environmental Protection went up to $1.44 billion from $1.35 billion last year.

Some departments saw cuts. Funding for the Public Service Commission went down from $27.9 million last year to $27.8 million this year. The Legislature lowered the Department of the Lotterys budget from $139.1 million to $134.9 million. Funding for the Department of Children and Family Services went down from $2.99 billion in 2009 to $2.94 billion in 2010.

Despite these cuts, some conservatives in the Legislature did not think they went far enough.

Im very proud of reducing the footprint of government in Florida, said Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne. But we certainly could have gone deeper.

Conservative pointed out that legislators followed their constitutional obligation to balance the budget and did so without raising taxes.

The budget has provisions regarding an extra $1 billion that Florida will obtain if Congress passes an extension of Medicaid funds. This, along with funds from a gaming compact with the Seminole tribe, had been one of the chief sticking points between the Senate and the House during negotiations over the last month.

While the House and Senate appear set to take a budget vote Friday, Gov. Charlie Crist, who can wield his power to effect a line-item veto, can still alter it.

Democratic House Leader Rep. Franklin Sands, D-Weston, said he expected members of his party to oppose the budget in the House. Sands said it was ironic that the Legislature continued to send memorials to Washington demanding the federal government to balance its budget while relying on federal funds to balance its own.

Sands also expressed opposition to provisions in the budget regarding state employees. While the initial budget in the House called for a 3 percent reduction in salaries, the final budget in the Legislature keeps salaries in place for the fifth year in a row. The budget will also raise insurance rates for more than 27,000 state employees.

We havent given state employees a raise in five years, said Sands. Now were expecting them to pat for their own health-care insurance.

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com or (850) 727-0859.

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