Fla. Senate OKs budget as House debates

The chambers are $2.8 billion apart in their spending plans.

Published: Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 10:32 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE - The Senate approved a budget of about $70 billion Wednesday, while the House was still debating its proposed $67.2 billion spending plan, but was not expected to vote until today.

Last year's budget was $66.5 billion.

The state budget is the only bill the Legislature is required to approve. The early approval, about the mid-point in the 60-day session, will give lawmakers about 30 days to work out the differences between the House and Senate version of the bills.

"There's not been any fun in this, and I have been forced to do many unpleasant things these last few months," said the Senate's chief budget writer, JD Alexander, a Republican from Lake Wales.

One of the main differences is that the Senate bill includes $880 million in Medicaid funding that lawmakers hope to get from the federal government, although Congress has not yet approved the measure. The Senate is also including about $412 million in its budget from the Seminole Tribe. The House has refused to include either the Medicaid funding or the Seminole Tribe money.

The Senate plan increases per-student funding for public schools by $39, to $6,905 per student, while the House plan cuts per-student funding by $52 per student to $6,835.

One of the places where there are huge differences is higher education. The Senate is proposing a $7.1 billion budget, while the House is recommending $5.8 billion budget, a reduction of $148.3 million or 2.5 percent less than this year.

For state universities and colleges, there is no reduction from this year's House budget of $3.4 billion. The House budget includes an 8 percent tuition hike and universities will be allowed to tack on another 7 percent for a 15 percent increase.

In the Senate bill, the State University System will receive an increase of about $128 million for a $3.54 billion total budget or 3.8 percent over the current year.

The House is recommending a budget of $1.8 billion for the state's community colleges, an increase of less than 1 percent in total funding. The Senate is proposing a $1.92 billion budget, an increase of $121.7 million. The Senate bill includes $50 million for enrollment growth, but the House bill does not fund the growth of new students.

Both the House and Senate maintain the Bright Futures scholarships at their current levels, but the Senate makes changes to the eligibility requirements in the future, making it more difficult to get and keep the popular scholarship.

Alexander said the budget cuts 3,635 jobs, but most of those are unfilled positions.

Once the House budget is approved, line-by-line comparisons will be made and joint conference committees will negotiate a final budget, which will face an up-or-down vote in the final week of the session.

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