Flood of federal cash spurs 9% spending hike in Florida’s proposed $101.5B budget

Senate and House budget-writers Tuesday submitted a proposed $101.5 billion Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) Florida spending plan after 10 days of behind-door negotiations between the two chambers resolved significant differences in preliminary proposals.

The proposed FY22 consensus budget outlined in Senate Bill 2500 increases overall spending by more than $8 billion compared to FY21’s $93.2 billion budget, but includes billions in federal pandemic assistance, including much of the $10.2 billion Florida will receive from the $1.9 trillion ‘American Rescue Plan’ (ARP) adopted in March by Congress.

SB 2500 was set on Senate President Wilton Simpson’s desk at 12:06 p.m. Tuesday. The state’s 72-hour “cooling off” requirement means floor debate on both chambers could begin noon Friday and stretch until the waning minutes before the 60-day session must adjourn at midnight.

The Senate initially proposed a $95.5 billion FY22 budget that did not allocate any of the $10.2 billion in ARP funding.

The House countered with a $97.1 billion plan that allocated some of ARP money, and Gov. Ron DeSantis earmarked $4 billion in ARP allocations, including $50 million to continue raising teacher salaries to a base $47,500 salary, boosting his $96.6 billion budget request above $100 billion.

DeSantis’ budget request ultimately becomes the preliminary proposal that most reflects the $101.5 billion consensus plan submitted Tuesday.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Kelly Stargel, R-Lakeland, and House Ways & Means Committee Chair Rep. Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, said Tuesday the flood of federal pandemic assistance money spurring the $8 billion spending hike cannot evolve into recurring budget drains once the federal money dries up.

“That’s probably not going to be an expectation for future generations that they’re going to be able to maintain a $100 billion budget,” Stargel said.

Under SB 2500, $6.7 billion in ARP monies will be allocated next fiscal year with $3.5 billion squirreled away in state reserves. States have until 2024 to spend COVID-19 relief funds.

All the proposed allocations are non-recurring, meaning they are one-time plugs for projects and programs that have either begun or are in late planning stages.

Under the preliminary plan, the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) pandemic-depleted State Transportation Trust Fund will receive $2 billion, including $1.75 billion for highway projects.

The remainder of the DOT allocation, $250 million, will go to grants to offset COVID-19 impacts on Florida’s $8 billion a year cruise operations, idled for more than year because of the pandemic, as well as on the state’s overall $117.6 billion maritime industry.

Under 2500’s allocation of federal aid monies, a new emergency trust fund to be used at the discretion of the governor would be created — a provision that drew robust opposition from Democrats and some Republicans

The proposed budget will spend $1 billion in federal assistance on various water projects across the state, such as flood mitigation, and Everglades restoration.

“We’re trying to focus on things that were one-time, infrastructure builds,” Stargel said. “I think water for the state of Florida is a very important issue.”

In addition, SB 2500 earmarks $100 million of the federal money to clean up a former phosphate plant in Manatee County; $300 million on the statewide wildlife corridor under the Florida Forever program; and $500 million to convert septic tanks to sewage systems as part of the Resilient Florida Trust Fund.

Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Tribly, said Florida is in a better place than it looked in August when state economists forecast a $5.4 billion shortfall over the next two years.

“I do believe we will continue to see some fluctuation and some uncertainty as our economy recovers,” he said in a statement. “With this reality in mind, our budget utilizes available federal funding to makes some significant nonrecurring investments in key infrastructure priorities that will create jobs and further bolster Florida’s recovering economy.”

This article was originally posted on Flood of federal cash spurs 9% spending hike in Florida’s proposed $101.5B budget

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