What’s in the budget? Vote on Florida’s budget plan expected on last day of legislative session

Florida

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) – Senate Bill 2500, a budget plan for the upcoming fiscal year in Florida, has been finalized. The General Appropriations Act will see a vote on the final day of the 2021 legislative session on April 30.

SB 2500, passed the Senate unanimously at 40-0 and nearly unanimously in the House at 104-14. It will face one final test before potentially heading to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk to be signed into law.

In a prepared statement, Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said the proposed budget plan comes following improved revenue estimates, offsetting what he called significant reductions that were made in August when the state was “looking at a $5.4 billion revenue loss.” Now, Simpson says the finalized budget plan uses federal funds to invest in “some significant nonrecurring investments in key infrastructure priorities” aimed at creating jobs and boosting the state economy.

“These investments allow us to speed up water quality improvements, environmental restoration objectives and to replenish funds for state highways projects, which declined last year as people spent more time at home due to the pandemic,” Simpson said in the statement.

Simpson says the nonrecurring funds were used to give bonuses to state and local first responders, teachers and child care providers, and pay $1 billion to child care assistance for health care employees and emergency responders, among others in need.

In a summary of SB 2500, the budget sets $101.5 billion for the coming fiscal year, with $6 billion in the reserves for major issues including education and state employee compensation.

Wage hikes and bonuses

For state employees, the minimum wage will increase to $13 per hour. State attorneys, public defenders and DCA Judges will all receive 10% pay increases, and $59 million is set aside for the Florida Retirement System for State Agencies.

Additionally, a $350 million budget stabilization fund is listed in the summary, along with $6.7 billion contingent on receipt of Federal Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Funds.

Emergency responders will see $1,000 bonus payments equaling $208.4 million, with a $1 billion Emergency Preparedness and Response Fund.

Child care and early learning instructors will also receive $1,000 bonus payments, equaling $166 million. The Florida Department of Education is authorized to use extra federal funds to provide the bonuses, should the budget plan pass the vote on April 30.

Classroom teachers and principals can also expect to see $1,000 bonuses equaling a collective $215.7 million. A total of $950.4 million has been budgeted for child care assistance for essential workers, including health care sector employees, emergency responders and sanitation workers.

Funding for the bonuses going to instructors, teachers and principals, as well as the child care assistance, will come from funding the state received from a combination of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act – Child Care Specific Funds, and the American Rescue Plan Act’s Education Specific Funds and Child Care Specific Funds, according to state documents.

Infrastructure investments

In a month dominated by conversations about infrastructure needs across the country, the proposed budget is expected to provide funding for infrastructure projects.

The report lists $2 billion in funding to go to the State Highway System and Florida Ports for improvements and enhancements. The bulk – $1.8 billion – will go to the State Highway System while $250 million will go to Port Operations Grants.

An additional $350 million is for deferred building maintenance, $100 million is for the State Emergency Operations Center, and another $50 million is for Military Affairs New Armories in Immokalee and Zephyrhills.

Continuing on infrastructure needs, Water Quality and Environmental Protection will see nearly $1.8 trillion from the budget. It’s split amongst Resilient Florida Grants, the Wastewater Grant Program, the Wildlife Corridor (DEP Land Acquisition), cleaning up Piney Point for $100 million and more.

Economic development and workforce support will also see investment, with $100 million going to a Workforce Information Technology System, $56.4 million going to the Reemployment Assistance System, $50 million to the Jobs Growth Grant Fund, $30 million for the African American Cultural and Historic Grant Program and $25 million to Visit Florida.

Education initiatives and facility improvements will receive $526.2 million for capital projects in PreK-12 Special Facilities ($210.3 million,) Higher Education ($190.9 million) and the New Worlds Reading Initiative ($125 million.)

Teacher salary increases, education boosts

Education is getting a big buy going forward, with the state marking $39.3 billion in total funding, with $26.7 billion in state funds and $12.6 billion from local funds.

Major issues set to see funding this year are Early Learning Services with $1.9 billion, and Early Learning/Back of Bill with $2.5 billion, including $1.5 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act Funding.

Public Schools/K12 Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) will get $22.8 billion through a combination of state and local funds, though the summary notes that the FEFP Total Funds will decrease by $149.1 million as a result of “pandemic-related enrollment decline.”

For Public Schools/K12 FEFP, total funds per student will be increased from $7,756 to $7,795 after adjustments for one-time hold harmless funding given to school districts for FY21. Base student allocations will increase by $53, or 1.2%.

Base funds for the FEFP, with flexible funding, will increase $473 million, according to the state, a 3.5% increase. Required Local Effort will increase $201.4 million, with the millage maintained at the level from the last fiscal year.

Teacher salary increase allocations will get $550 million, and the budget summary notes that school districts will have to increase minimum salaries to at least $47,500 for $440 million. Other instructional personnel will now be budgeted $110 million for salary increases. Another $180 million will be given for a Safe Schools Allocation, aimed at School Safety Officers and school safety initiatives.

Education media will see $313.7 million through a variety of programs, bonusses, grants and projects.

$4.3 billion in federal grants to public schools are expected, with $417.3 million in federal grants funding and $2 billion for CRRSA funds to school districts, including one-time emergency relief funds for K-12 education related to reopening post-pandemic.

Public Schools/K12 Back of the Bill will see $7 billion, with the bulk coming from the American Rescue Plan Act. A total of $6.3 billion will be one-time emergency relief to K-12 education for costs of educated related to the COVID-19 pandemic and reopening schools, $216 million is for $1,000 bonuses for full-time public school teachers and principals and $488 million is for state-level discretionary funds for K-12 Education.

The State Board of Education will get $545.1 million, split between Assessment and Evaluation, Number One Standards for Teacher Professional Development, and $255 million for Federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds for state education agency.

School District workforce will get $569.8 million, according to the state budget summary. Those funds will be split between multiple programs and initiatives, including $120.6 million for Perkins Career and Technical Education grants and Adult Education and Literacy funds.

The Florida College System will get $2 billion while the State University System will receive $5.3 billion. Private colleges will get $186.5 million, split between EASE and ABLE Grants.

Student Financial Aid has $982.6 billion earmarked, with the largest amount going to Bright Futures for $623.3 million.

The combination of funding sources and the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic all factored in to how the proposed budget was drafted. Senators involved with the process say it’ll all help Florida get back on its feet.

“Through a combination of key investments and significant reserves, this budget sets Florida on a responsible path towards a full economic recovery that will leave our state well-prepared to both address potential future challenges and seize upcoming opportunities as more and more people locate here in our great state,” Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, the chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, said.

Stargel says the budget will make sure Floridians “live within our means” while still funding important government functions with recurring state funds, including fully funding the state’s Medicaid program and KidCare program.

The description of SB 2500 on the Florida Senate legislation site reads:

“Appropriations; Providing moneys for the annual period beginning July 1, 2021, and ending June 30, 2022, and supplemental appropriations for the period ending June 30, 2021, to pay salaries, and other expenses, capital outlay – buildings, and other improvements, and for other specified purposes of the various agencies of state government, etc. APPROPRIATION: $94,958,184,153.”

SB 2500 description.

A full budget summary can be read below.

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