Legislative leaders reached a deal Tuesday on broad budget numbers, likely setting the stage for lawmakers to wrap up their work by the scheduled May 3 end of the annual session.
Top Republicans have agreed to steer more than $33.68 billion in state general revenue into broad areas of the budget such as schools, health care and the environment. Coupled with other money, such as federal matching funds, the overall budget for the upcoming fiscal year should be near $90 billion.
After the deal on the broad budget numbers, House and Senate conference committees will spend the coming days negotiating the details of the spending plan.
“It was a classic negotiation. People came to each other’s positions,” Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said of reaching agreement on the broad numbers, known as “allocations.”
While the Legislature tackles scores of issues during the 60-day session, it only is required to pass one bill: the budget.
After negotiators finish working out the details, a 72-hour “cooling off” period is required before lawmakers can vote on the budget. That requirement, approved by voters in a constitutional amendment, is designed so lawmakers and the public will have time to review the spending plan before it is approved.
That means the state fiscal year 2019-20 budget must be negotiated and distributed — either electronically or on paper — by April 30 if lawmakers are to adjourn on May 3.
The House approved an $89.9 billion budget plan this month, while the Senate approved a $90.3 billion plan. Those votes set up the negotiation process.
Most of the $33.68 billion in general-revenue dollars will be spent in two areas: education and health care.
Specifically, legislative leaders agreed to spend $12.8 billion on the pre-kindergarten through high school system and $10.17 billion on health and human services. Another $4.54 billion would go to higher education.
The agreed-to general revenue amount is about $7 million less than what the Senate offered to spend in its proposed budget. But it’s $224 million more than what the House included in its proposed budget.
The chambers also reached an agreement on the amount of tax breaks for the upcoming year.
Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta said the agreement includes $90 million in tax breaks, down from $171 million last year.
Bradley said the House and Senate haven’t agreed on what tax breaks to give, but he predicted that, similar to the past, the chambers would endorse sales-tax holidays for things such as back-to-school shopping.
Also, Bradley told The News Service of Florida that a proposed $30 million tax break for insurance companies that is linked to telehealth “isn’t going to happen.”
Health care will be a key area as the House and Senate bridge their differences on budget details. The agreed-to $10.17 billion in general revenue for health and human services is nearly $60 million more than what the House had initially approved and about $50 million less than what the Senate had initially proposed.
A major difference has been in the area of hospital funding.
The House has recommended across-the-board budget cuts in Medicaid rates for hospital inpatient and outpatient services.
While the Senate hasn’t recommended any spending cuts to hospitals, the chamber has recommended a policy change that would redistribute $318 million that currently is targeted to hospitals that treat the largest numbers of Medicaid and charity-care patients. Instead of targeting the money to hospitals with such caseloads, the $318 million would be rolled into overall hospital funding.
While there are differences in hospital spending, the chambers are more in line when it comes to nursing homes. The chambers have agreed to target more than $189 million to nursing homes for patients who aren’t in the mandatory Medicaid managed care program.
But neither chamber agreed to continue $138 million in total funding that was included in last year’s budget to increase Medicaid nursing-home reimbursements.
The Florida Health Care Association and LeadingAge Florida — two major nursing home associations — are pressing lawmakers to add the funding back to the budget. AARP Florida has joined their efforts.
Meanwhile, House Appropriations Chairman Travis Cummings, R-Fleming Island, acknowledged that another “thorny issue” has been higher education spending.
Cummings said a lot of progress has been made in the higher-education area of the budget. Part of the House budget included cutting $138 million from the state university system, a slash the Senate did not back.
Cummings said negotiations still need to be completed on funding for the Public Education Capital Outlay, or PECO, funding, which helps pay for higher-education building projects.
— News Service staff writer Ana Ceballos contributed to this story