Legislature passes $79B budget in overtime

After a sprawling and messy budget fight that spawned lawsuits and finger-pointing, the fractured Republican-controlled Florida Legislature approved a nearly $79 billion budget and ended its special session Friday.

Legislators were racing against the clock to pass the budget after they failed to pass one during their regular two-month session that ended in late April.

The final vote was 37-0 in the Senate and 96-17 in the House. It followed two days of debate in which some legislators expressed frustration at the drawn-out budget battle caused by a stalemate over health care. The Senate wanted to expand health insurance coverage for low-income Floridians; the House did not.

“There’s a lot of things we didn’t do in this budget; that’s why they make next year,” said Sen. Don Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican.

The budget heads next to Gov. Rick Scott, who has only 10 days to review it and decide whether to use his line-item veto power to ax spending included in the plan. State government will be partially shut down if a new budget is not signed by July 1.

Legislators were unable to reach a deal on a budget during the regular session. House Republicans adjourned three days early because Senate leaders were insisting on a proposal to expand insurance coverage by tapping into federal money tied to President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Senate Democrats filed a lawsuit against the House, and the state Supreme Court ruled that the House should not have left early.

The standoff led to a June special session where the House eventually voted on — and killed — the Senate health care proposal. The defeat led House and Senate budget negotiators to finally start working together. They worked largely behind closed doors to reach an agreement on the final $78.7 billion budget approved by legislators.

The final budget includes more than $400 million in tax cuts, including a 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday. Scott had been seeking nearly $700 million in tax cuts. Florida will also spend 3 percent more on each public school student, although the final amount falls short of Scott’s campaign promise to raise school funding to historic levels.

Other notable highlights include a new bonus program for more than 4,000 teachers and a proposal to expand a program backed by Senate President Andy Gardiner that helps children with disabilities.


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