House OKs budget plan — setting stage for homestretch dealing with Senateby John Kennedy | April 12th, 2013
The Florida House approved its $74.4 billion state budget Friday, setting the stage for end-of-session negotiations with the Senate over a final spending plan for 2013-14.
The House vote was 99-17, with about one-third of the Democratic caucus opposing the proposal.
Unlike recent sessions, the House and Senate budgets are relatively close, helped along by a $1 billion budget surplus which follows six years of spending reductions.
“We prioritize people, while maintaining reserves,” said Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, who helped craft health and human services spending.
The House increases public school spending by $1 billion, or an average $395-per-student. College and university tuition would jump by 6 percent under the House plan, which also sets aside $2.6 billion in reserves.
The Senate approved its $74.3 billion proposal earlier this week on a 40-0 vote. Much of the session’s remaining three weeks will be devoted to reaching a consensus plan for the year beginning July 1.
House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale criticized the House proposal for failing to embrace a Medicaid expansion that could draw $51 billion to Florida over the next decade, while costing state taxpayers no more than $3.5 billion. Another 1 million Floridians could get health insurance under the approach.
Instead, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and other ruling Republicans unveiled a health insurance proposal Thursday that would cover only about 115,000 Floridians while costing state taxpayers $237 million a year. No federal dollars would be used in the modest expansion.
Thurston said the difference means a “big elephant stands in the way,” of his supporting the House budget proposal.
“We stand with a once in a lifetime opportunity to not only do something good, but to do great things,” Thurston said.