By John Haughey | The Center Square
Weekend negotiations between Florida House and Senate leaders have produced accords in reconciling differences in the chambers’ proposed fiscal year 2021 spending plans.
Among them: full funding for affordable housing programs; a 3 percent across-the-board pay raise for state employees, with corrections officers receiving an additional salary boost; money to sustain VISIT FLORIDA for another year; and a $100 million commitment to Florida Forever.
The agreements emerged Saturday evening after conferences between House and Senate leaders that will continue until a fiscal 2021 budget is adopted.
The proposed $91.3 billion House budget is nearly $1.5 billion less than the Senate’s tentative plan, and it closely aligns in overall spending with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ $91.4 billion budget request. This year’s budget is $90.98 billion.
State law requires a 72-hour pause between second-reading approval and final adoption of annual budgets. Both chambers must endorse the spending plan by Tuesday night if the 60-day session is to adjourn as scheduled Friday.
House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Hialeah, and Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, have cautioned a Friday adjournment is improbable, although an extended session likely would only be a day or two to meet the 72-hour requirement.
Among unsettled budget issues is a $543 million House tax refund for corporations that exceeds Senate proposals, specifics in teacher pay raises, and how much to set aside for the coronavirus emergency. DeSantis has requested $25 million.
Policy-related differences between the chambers include dueling E-Verify, vacation rental and sentencing reform bills.
In addition to fully funding affordable housing and boosting Florida Forever allocations, other agreements include:
• State employee pay raises: Negotiators have settled on a 3-percent across-the-board pay raise for state workers, beginning July 1.
The Senate’s $403 million package proposed a minimum raise of $1,000 if a 3-percent increase fell below that amount and to cover increased health insurance costs, approximately $640 for individuals and $1,440 for families.
The House countered with a $1,800 raise to state workers earning less than $51,800 annually.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Travis Cummings, R-Fleming Island, said the Senate’s proposal has been accepted by the House.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the largest government employee union in the state, had sought a 5 percent pay increase, citing studies that consistently rank Florida among the bottom tier of state employee salaries per capita and in average state employee salary.
Since 2008, state workers have received two pay raises. In 2013 and 2017, those making more than $40,000 per year received $1,000 raises and those making less than $40,000 received $1,400 raises.
• Corrections officers pay raises: Corrections officers will receive salary boosts in addition to the 3 percent pay raise, although specifics were not released.
The House and DeSantis have set forth plans calling for a flat $1,800 raise for correctional officers. The Senate plan called for those with less than two years’ experience to receive a $500 raise, those with more than two years’ experience a $1,500 bump and those with five or more years, a $2,500 increase.
Negotiators also have agreed to shift from 12-hour to 8.5-hour shifts, a priority for DeSantis and Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch, who asked for $89 million to begin scaling back shifts and to address other staffing problems.
• VISIT FLORIDA: The embattled state tourist marketing agency will live on – at least for another year.
House negotiators acceded to the governor’s and Senate’s $50 million request after initially earmarking no money.
“They really are a good marketing company,” Oliva chided Friday. “They have made us believe they should exist.”
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