Budget debate marks Legislature’s move toward the exitsby John Kennedy | May 3rd, 2013
The Florida House and Senate began making their first moves toward the exit Friday, debating a $74.5 billion state budget set to be approved on the 60-day session’s final scheduled day.
The budget for the year beginning July 1 is poised to be the largest in state history. In House closing speeches, there was plenty of praise for $1 billion increase in school spending, pay raises for state employees for the first time in seven years, and dozens of hometown projects scattered throughout the budget.
There was also a measure of relief. Legislators were helped by the first budget surplus since before the recession.
“Because of fiscally sound management and making hard decision, today we can celebrate a great time of restoration,” said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala.
Most of the outnumbered Democratic caucus, which fought unsuccessfully to expand health care to uninsured Floridians, sided with ruling Republicans on the spending plan.
“There’s light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not another train,” said Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach.
But several Democrats called for Gov. Rick Scott to veto the budget and call lawmakers back into a later special session. Scott had allied with Democrats and the Republican-led Senate in looking to position Florida to draw $51 billion in federal Medicaid money to cover more than 1 million uninsured Floridians.
Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, was among those who indicated they will vote against the measure.
“The budget is not plugged into the reality that exists outside this chamber,” Pafford said.