A report from Florida TaxWatch
$4 billion dollars separate Florida's House and Senate budget proposals
Analysis of budgets for FY2015-16
A more than $4 billion dollar difference between the House and Senate budget proposals is detailed in the latest Budget Watch from Florida TaxWatch. The nonpartisan taxpayer watchdog group's annual analysis of the initial budgets shows that the largest point of contention between the chambers is in funding the health and human services portion of the budget.
"The Legislature faces a bumpy road to Florida's final budget as the House and Senate work to bridge the very large gap between their budget proposals in the next several weeks," said Kurt Wenner, Vice President of Research for Florida TaxWatch, the state's independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy research institute and government watchdog. "However, despite the initial sticker-shock difference created by the health care issues, the budgets are very similar in many other categories."
The total House proposal equals $76.154 billion, which is less than current spending and the Governor's budget recommendation, while the Senate version would be the largest in state history at $80.425 billion. The Senate budget includes federal funding to cover the uninsured at Florida hospitals through the Low Income Pool (LIP), and an alternative to Medicaid expansion called the Florida Health Insurance Affordability Exchange. Pending federal approval, this would allow Florida to draw down federal Medicaid funds, which would be given to low-income Floridians to purchase private health care coverage.
The chambers' proposals also differ in education spending. Neither the Senate nor the House increased per-student funding to the governor's recommendation, but both chambers do include additional per-student funding over current spending. However, more than two-thirds of the increased appropriation comes from a $494 million property tax increase for local taxpayers. In addition to slightly higher per-student funding increases, the House includes more money for school construction and maintenance costs than the Senate.
Though the budgets are submitted, more than $1 billion in General Revenue remains unallocated by both the House and Senate, even after assuming reserves of $1.1 billion. Some of these dollars will likely be used to fund tax cut proposals. While the House unveiled a $690 million tax cut package this week, the Senate will wait for federal approval of the Low Income Pool before announcing their proposal. It's also likely that some of the leftover money will be appropriated during the budget conference process between the chambers, a practice that lands projects on the Florida TaxWatch Budget Turkey Watch Report, an annual analysis of accountability and transparency of the budget process.
"Legislative leaders have answered the taxpayers' calls for more transparency while building Florida's budget this year, and we commend them for their efforts to create and enforce processes that help the public understand why their hard-earned money should be funding certain projects," said Wenner. "It is our hope that the great work to improve the budget process championed by Senator Latvala, Senator Gaetz and Representative Corcoran will not be undermined by the addition of projects in budget conference that receive no public scrutiny or debate."
The Budget Watch also details the chambers' funding proposals for agriculture and environment (including Amendment 1 implementation), transportation and economic development proposals, criminal justice and court funding, and the latest General Revenue increases from March.
As an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit taxpayer research institute and government watchdog, it is the mission of Florida TaxWatch to provide the citizens of Florida and public officials with high quality, independent research and analysis of issues related to state and local government taxation, expenditures, policies, and programs. Florida TaxWatch works to improve the productivity and accountability of Florida government. Its research recommends productivity enhancements and explains the statewide impact of fiscal and economic policies and practices on citizens and businesses. Florida TaxWatch is supported by voluntary, tax-deductible donations and private grants, and does not accept government funding. Donations provide a solid, lasting foundation that has enabled Florida TaxWatch to bring about a more effective, responsive government that is accountable to the citizens it serves for the last 35 years. On the web at www.FloridaTaxWatch.org.