Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

The Special Session today

Today’s special session saw the House and Senate finally closing their hearings on the budget and getting ready to vote on their respective proposals tomorrow according to an AP report

While they are fairly in agreement on cutting nearly $1 billion in spending and raising traffic fines, two main questions divided the House and Senate: Whether to cut spending for road building and other transportation projects and how much money to borrow from the state’s tobacco settlement endowment.  The House wants to take $235 million out of the State’s transportation trust fund and use that money to offset shortfalls in the general fund.  The House plan would take $400 million from the Lawton Chiles Endowment Fund, while the Senate’s package would remove $700 million.

The House and Senate versions also differ in other areas:

Affordable Housing:  The Senate would remove $140 million from the affordable housing trust fund compared to $283 million under the House plan.

Budget Stabilization Fund:  The House would nearly drain the budget stabilization fund by removing $600 million while the Senate would take out $200 million.

Education:  Both packages would require pay cuts for school employees in financial troubled districts, but they differ on the details.  The House amended its version during floor debate to exempt teachers. It would go into effect if a district’s cash balance falls under 2 percent of its general fund budget. Under the Senate plan, salaries for all district employees including teachers, administrators, school board members and non-teacher employees would be cut only if a district is unable to pay its bills or make payroll.

Conservation:  The Senate proposal would cut the state’s Florida Forever environmental land-buying program by $4 million for the rest of the current budget year and $20 million annually, while the House proposal would leave the program untouched.  BTW, the Senate cuts in this program would affect projects here in Jacksonville:  Ft. George State Park, the Jacksonville-Baldwin Rails to Trails expansion, Ocean Hammock Park, and  Town Center Park. 

Once the House and Senate vote on their proposals, they will have to conference to resolve the differences between the two proposals.  Then Florida law requires that they wait for a three day cooling off period before they take a final vote on the budget.


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