By John Haughey | The Center Square
The Florida Senate’s 45-minute session ended in a cliffhanger Tuesday when Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, was asked for an update on budget negotiations with the House.
"We’re making real progress with our friends in the House as we move into week eight,” Bradley said. “That all being said, there is a good possibility that we may need to extend the session.”
Shortly after, as the House convened, House Speaker José Oliva, R-Hialeah, told representatives that budget talks with the Senate will extend beyond the session’s scheduled March 13 adjournment.
“It is now inevitable that we will go long in session,” Oliva said. “The extent of that extension is yet unknown, but we are confident we’re working closely with our partners in the Senate to bridge the gaps between us that can get us into allocations and then into conference.”
The chambers are about $1.5 billion apart in their proposed fiscal year 2021 budgets. The Senate tentatively has approved a $92.8 billion spending plan, and the House has a preliminary $91.4 billion budget on the table.
The House’s proposed budget is similar in overall spending to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ $91.4 billion budget request but, as with the Senate’s spending plan, the differences are in the details. Among them:
• Visit Florida: The Senate allocates $52.5 million and DeSantis $50 million for Visit Florida, the embattled tourist marketing agency the House budget excludes.
• Florida Forever: The Senate sets aside $125 million for the Florida Forever land acquisition program, and the House wants to spend $20 million. DeSantis seeks $100 million.
• Affordable housing: The Senate’s plan and DeSantis’ request seek to fully fund the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund at $387 million. The House tabs $144 million.
• Teacher pay raises: The Senate commits $500 million, with 80 percent required to increase minimum salaries to $47,500, and sets aside $325 million for districts to use for salary enhancements for all workers.
The House calls for a $650 million salary enhancement supplement for teachers. DeSantis has called for $602 million for a $47,500 base salary.
• State worker pay raises: The Senate earmarks $403 million for a 3 percent pay raise for state workers and covers the increased cost of health insurance, approximately $640 for individuals and $1,440 for families.
The House’s plan calls includes $1,800 salary increases to state employees making less than $50,000 annually.
DeSantis proposes pay raises for teachers and corrections officers, but does not seek salary increases for 97,000 other state workers.
• Back-to-school sales tax holiday: The Senate outlines a 10-day sales tax holiday for clothing and school supplies from July 31 to Aug. 9 that would save taxpayers $65.1 million.
The House package offers the same sales tax holiday on the same items, but scales back 2019’s five-day holiday to three days, Aug. 7-9, saving Floridians $41.8 million.
• Hurricane preparation sales tax holiday: The Senate’s proposed budget calls for an 18-day disaster preparedness sales-tax holiday from May 29 to June 15 that would save residents $26.8 million. The House has countered with a seven-day disaster prep tax holiday, May 29-June 4, that would save Floridians $5.6 million in emergency supplies.
DeSantis’ budget request seeks an eight-day back-to-school and 10-day disaster preparedness sales tax holidays that, together, would save taxpayers $56 million.
• Communications Service Tax (CST): The Senate budget would reduce the state’s CST by 0.02 percent, from 4.92 percent to 4.9 percent, and establish uniform rates across Florida’s 482 municipalities, fixing it at 4 percent for charter counties and cities, and at 2 percent for noncharter counties.
The House plan reduces the state’s CST from 4.92 percent to 4.42 percent and CST on direct-to-home satellite services from 9.07 percent to 8.57 percent.
• Property tax cut: DeSantis’ budget request calls for a 0.126 millage cut in the Florida Education Finance Program’s (FEFP) local-effort property tax, returning $247.3 million to homeowners, as the key component of his $312 million tax plan. Neither chambers include the FEFP cut.