Florida lawmakers pass historic $101.5 billion budget

It’s the first time in state history the budget has topped $100 billion

File Photo
File Photo

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – State lawmakers have wrapped up their work for the 2021 legislative session agreeing on a historic $101.5 billion budget.

Members of both parties say they’re happy with where the budget landed, after initially fearing drastic cuts.

This is the first time in state history the budget has topped $100 billion.

Legislative leaders say the spending plan this year was crafted with the future in mind.

“I believe this session we have created a framework that will benefit our state for generations to come,” said Senate President Wilton Simpson.

The eye-popping overall price tag seemed unimaginable at the start of the session when lawmakers were looking at massive cuts to health care, prisons and more.

But those cuts were avoided thanks to higher than expected state revenues and billions in federal stimulus.

“I think every time we came back the estimates got better and better about revenue coming back in the state, which wasn’t happening, which made our budget choices a lot easier,” said House Speaker Chris Sprowls.

Even Democrats are happy with the overall product, despite not seeing the direct relief to Floridians they had hoped the extra federal cash would go towards.

“$10 billion goes a long way into any budget and it’ll make it a lot better,” said House Democratic Co-Leader Bobby DuBose.

Some highlights of the budget include half a billion for coastal resiliency projects, a 10-month expansion of postpartum Medicaid coverage, a raise for minimum wage state employees to $13 an hour and one-time teacher and principle bonuses of $1,000.

One area seeing a huge boost from the feds, the $20 billion K-12 budget.

“We now have more money than they can even consider what to do with. We’re awash in funding. COVID turned out to be the greatest stimulus for education spending in public education history,” said House K-12 Appropriations Chair Randy Fine.

The budget is now in the hands of the Governor, but the Senate President isn’t fearing the veto pen this year.

“Wildlife corridors, the environment, sea-level rise. All of the things that are in this budget, I believe the Governor will fair in his application of the veto pen,” said Simpson.

Facing the uncertainty around the pandemic, the Governor vetoed a billion from the budget last year.

He has a month to decide what will stay and what goes for this year.