Here are the budget differences between the Florida House and Senate

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Aerial photo of downtown Tallahassee, Florida and the State Capitol
Aerial photo of downtown Tallahassee, Florida and the State Capitol. By felixmizioznikov via iStock for WMNF.

By Jim Turner, Dara Kam and Ryan Dailey ©2024 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — With differences on issues such as funding prisons, a health-care plan and home-hardening grants, Senate and House budget committees on Wednesday approved spending plans that top $115 billion.

The Senate and House appropriations committees advanced their proposed budgets (SB 2500 and PCB APC 24-01) for the 2024-2025 fiscal year, which will start July 1. The votes were steps toward the Senate and House negotiating a final budget before the annual legislative session ends in March.

Both proposals would be lower than the state’s $119.1 billion budget in the current year. House Appropriations Chair Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, called the House proposal “austere,” putting “us in a good position for three to five years down the road.”

The House and Senate say a package of tax breaks will be crafted alongside the budget. But legislative leaders have discussed a need to tighten spending, as state economists have projected mostly moderate annual revenue growth.

“I think everyone in this room knows that we probably have access to more than $115.9 billion,” Senate Appropriations Chair Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, said, referring to the proposed Senate budget total. The House proposal totaled nearly $115.55 billion.

But Broxson added that because of the annual threat of hurricanes and the potential for a downturn in the national economy, “we are determined to send our future leaders, (incoming Senate President Ben) Albritton, (Sen. Jim) Boyd and others, put them in a same position that we’ve enjoyed in these two years in this committee.”

The Senate and House are both eyeing 3 percent pay raises for state employees. The Senate is proposing an additional increase for Agency for Health Care Administration employees.

The House and Senate are proposing near-identical increases in per-student funding for kindergarten through 12th-grade students under the Florida Education Finance Program, the state’s main school-funding formula. Both plans propose a 2.5 percent hike from $8,719 to about $8,937.

The full Senate and full House are expected to pass the proposals next week, setting the stage for negotiations between the chambers. While budget leaders didn’t express worries about the negotiations, the proposals include some policy differences.

For example, the Senate proposes spending $767.4 million to carry out the “Live Healthy” plan that is a priority of Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples. The plan focuses heavily on efforts to attract more doctors to the state through such things as expanding medical residency programs. The House has proposed spending nearly $549 million.

Meanwhile, the Senate has proposed $107 million for the My Safe Florida Home program, which offers up to $10,000 in grants so homeowners could qualify for property insurance discounts through home-hardening projects and inspections. The House is proposing $225.8 million for grants and inspections, with an additional $27 million for a pilot program involving condominiums.

Meanwhile, the Senate is pursuing a plan that would set aside $3 billion over the next three decades to repair aging prison infrastructure and build new facilities.

Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Chair Jennifer Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said “it’s essential that we acknowledge that our aging prison infrastructure remains a pressing issue that demands our attention.”

The Senate is looking to authorize bonds to finance constructing new facilities or expanding existing prisons. The House doesn’t match the Senate plan.

Trying to hold the line on university tuition, the Senate is proposing $1.94 billion for tuition and fees as part of $3.9 billion going to the state university system. The House’s proposed budget would put $4.3 billion toward the system of 12 universities.

The Senate wants $100 million for what are known as “pre-eminent” state research universities, which are the University of Florida, Florida State University, University of South Florida and the newly designated Florida International University. The House, meanwhile, would fund the pre-eminent schools at $50 million.

The state’s tourism-marketing arm Visit Florida would get $50 million under the Senate plan, down from $80 million in the current fiscal year. The House, meanwhile, is proposing funding for Visit Florida at $30 million.

The Florida Forever land-conservation program would get $116.3 million under the Senate’s proposed spending plan, while the House aims to fund the program at roughly $158 million.

The Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, which is a priority of Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson, would receive $128 million in the Senate plan. Simpson has requested $300 million for the program, which is intended to help keep farmers and ranchers from selling or developing their land.

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